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Agency rules LGBT workers are protected from discrimination

On July 15, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that current law already prohibits discrimination against employees who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The historic decision is a major victory for LGBT employees in California and nationwide.

According to the EEOC, which oversees and enforces federal employment discrimination laws, LGBT employees are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination "based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin." While the commission acknowledged that sexual orientation is not specifically named under Title VII, it ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation "is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of that employee's sex."

To show how Title VII protections against sex discrimination also shield LGBT employees, the EEOC provided an example of a lesbian worker who was disciplined for placing a photo of her female spouse on her desk, while a male worker received no disciplinary action for placing a photo of his female spouse on his desk. According to the ruling, the lesbian employee "can allege that her employer took adverse action against her that the employer would not have taken had she been male." The EEOC ruling contradicts some previous decisions handed down by federal courts on the issue. Experts believe it could face court challenges in the future.

California employees who believe that they have been the victim of workplace discrimination, including sex discrimination, may benefit by meeting with an attorney. After learning the details of the claim, an attorney could recommend the best course of legal action. In some cases, it is necessary to initiate the process by filing a claim with the appropriate state or federal agency.

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