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Are LGBTQ+ workers legally protected from discrimination?

On Behalf of | Feb 21, 2024 | Employment Law

Legal protections to protect LGBTQ+ workers from discrimination in the workplace have significantly evolved over the years, at both the state and federal levels. At present, LGBTQ+ employees are afforded federal protections against discrimination, thanks to landmark Supreme Court decisions and specific legislation designed to address and prevent workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County. This landmark decision established that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, also protects employees against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Supreme Court’s interpretation clarified that discrimination against someone for being LGBTQ+ is fundamentally a form of sex discrimination. This ruling effectively extended legal protections to LGBTQ+ workers across the country, mandating that employers cannot fire, refuse to hire or discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Additionally, some states and localities have enacted their own laws and ordinances that provide additional protections for LGBTQ+ workers, including laws that address discrimination in smaller businesses not covered by federal statutes, as well as public accommodations, housing and education.

And yet…

Despite these advances, challenges remain. Due to conscious and subconscious bias, LGBTQ+ workers may still face discrimination in the workplace. Moreover, there are ongoing legal and political debates about religious exemptions and how they intersect with anti-discrimination protections, which could potentially impact the scope of protection for LGBTQ+ employees in certain contexts.

While discrimination against LGBTQ+ workers is technically unlawful, discrimination persists far too often. Although it would be ideal if no discrimination occurred whatsoever, those who are affected by unlawful mistreatment can take some comfort in the knowledge that they have the right to explore their legal options at any time.


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