Civil Rights Law and employment discrimination for sexual orientation

Courts extend protections of Civil Rights Law to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

There are basic rights granted to employees within the workplace. One is the right to be free from discriminatory practices. It is illegal for employees to fire, demote or otherwise discriminate against a worker based solely on his or her race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 establishes this right at the federal level.

Application of protections can be vague

As noted above, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provides protection for a number of different forms of discrimination, including the freedom from discrimination based on sex. The law defines the term "sex" to include the discrimination of an employee "on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions." It also states that this definition is only the beginning, that it does not limit the full extent of the protections offered to employees that are the subject of this form of discrimination.

The broad and vague nature of the definition begs for further interpretation. Enter the courts.

Two separate Appellate Courts have ruled on this issue and both have found that the protections offered against sexual discrimination extend to include acts of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals out of Texas ruled in this manner in 2017 and a second court out of New York ruled the same in 2018.

Federal protections against sexual discrimination are just the start

Federal protections are only one part of a discrimination case. State laws must also be taken into consideration. In California it is illegal to discriminate against an employee based on the workers' sexual orientation. Although these protections at the state level are present, the extension of the federal interpretation remains important. This application shows the shifting cultural stance on such forms of discrimination.

Application for those who are the victims of discrimination based on sexual orientation in California

Legal remedies are available to those that believe they are the subject of discrimination based on sexual orientation. These remedies can include the payment of lost wages and benefits. In some cases, punitive damages are also available. Punitive damages are designed to serve as a punishment for the guilty party and generally take the form of an additional monetary award to the victim.

If you were a victim, take action to preserve your rights. You were not in the wrong. It is illegal to lose your job or miss out on a promotion based on your sexual orientation. Contact an attorney to fight back.