Written by Avvo Staff

Employment Law: Sexual Orientation

Employment laws regarding sexual orientation prohibit workplace discrimination toward gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees. Although no current federal laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, many states, cities, and counties have enacted their own anti-discrimination laws.

State and local laws

As of August 2008, 20 states and hundreds of cities and counties had made it illegal to base decisions regarding hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment on sexual orientation. New laws are constantly introduced, so it's best to check with an attorney, government agency, or local gay legal organization to learn your rights.

Most state and local laws prohibit sexual orientation discrimination for both public and private employers who do business within the government's jurisdiction. In states and municipalities that don't have set laws, executive orders, civil service provisions, or union contracts may provide specific prohibitions.

Several states and cities protect against benefits discrimination by allowing same-sex couples to register as domestic partners. Many employers extend health insurance and other benefits to an employee's domestic partner.

Specific protections, procedures, and remedies for sexual orientation employment discrimination may differ according to jurisdiction. Consult with an attorney, government agency, or gay legal organization for information that pertains to you.

Proposed federal laws

Federal legislation to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation has been stalled in Congress for many years. The current bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), will, if passed, extend employment rights guaranteed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to employees of any sexual orientation: homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual. If passed as-is, the law will pertain to employers with 15 or more employees, excluding religious organizations and the armed forces.

Although Title VII currently prohibits sexual harassment towards a man or a woman, courts have been divided in applying the law to cases of sexual orientation harassment. It's best to consult a lawyer if you were subject to this behavior and want to take action.

Filing a complaint

Your local Fair Employment Practices Agency (FEPA) or human rights commission can inform you of your rights under state and local law. You may wish to speak to an attorney to determine what laws may offer you the best legal protection.

You must file a complaint with the jurisdiction that enforces the law that was violated. Filing procedures and time limits may vary according to jurisdiction. There is no cost to file a discrimination complaint.

Additional resources:

Workplace Fairness: Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Human Rights Campaign: Employment Nondiscrimination Act

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer