4 New Developments in Protections for LGBT Workers

Laws and policies about sexual orientation are changing.

It’s been in the news and all over the Internet lately.

The recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage received a tremendous amount of attention, as have questions about businesses’ rights to refuse service based on religious beliefs.


What about employment law? Here are 4 new developments that you should know.


1. EEOC decision on Title VII

The American Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating based on a person’s sex or gender. It contains no specific language about sexual orientation, per se.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission just determined that discrimination based on sexual orientation is in violation of Title VII (and therefore within EEOC’s jurisdiction to enforce).

This determination was made in the context of one specific complaint that was filed, but it is likely to set a precedent.


2. EEOC strategic enforcement plan

EEOC’s strategic enforcement plan for 2013-16 specifically mentions “coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply.”

So far, the EEOC has already received more than 2,000 LGBT employment discrimination complaints, and recovered more than $3.8 million in monetary benefits.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation is now much more likely to result in legal action against the employer.


3. Interpretations still may differ

The EEOC has interpreted Title VII to mean that discrimination based on sexual orientation is within their jurisdiction to enforce. And the courts sometimes seem to agree, but they might not always.

State and local courts could have a different interpretation of Title VII.

It is unclear how this will eventually play out one way or another, but new federal legislation or higher court decisions are quite likely in the future.


4. Changing laws and policies…changes minds

How will changing policies and laws potentially affect people in the workplace?

Will things go on like normal? Will some people feel uncomfortable at work, be less sociable, more awkward in their interactions?

It’s too soon to know exactly what will happen, but recent research suggests that simply having an LGBT anti-discrimination law will actually tend to make people more comfortable interacting with LGBT others in a work-related context.

That is comforting.


Uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and ambiguity are the things that really stress most people out. Whatever happens next, it is good that these issues are being addressed more definitively.



Image credit: Clyde Robinson

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