5 Common Questions About Sexual Orientation Discrimination At Work

5 Common Questions About Sexual Orientation Discrimination At Work

Were you the victim of discrimination at work because of your sexual orientation? If so, you likely have questions about sexual orientation discrimination and what it actually entails. You may be wondering about your legal rights. 

Ultimately, you must be informed if you want to make a discrimination claim against your employer. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) exists to protect you from discrimination based on your sexual orientation. There are also actions you can take if you have suffered sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

Is Sexual Orientation Discrimination Against The Law In California?

According to California law —  and specifically the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) — discrimination in the workplace that is based on an employee’s sexual orientation is unlawful. In short, it is against the law for any employer to discriminate against any employee simply because of his or her sexual orientation.

If an employer, for example, discriminates against an employee who the employer perceives as a lesbian — and that person is not a lesbian — the employer cannot then use that employee’s actual heterosexuality as a defense for its earlier discriminatory behavior.

According to FEHA, an employer cannot use a person’s perceived sexual orientation as a reason to:

  • Fire an employee.
  • Refuse to hire an employee.
  • Refuse to select an employee for promotion or advancement.
  • Offer inferior or reduced benefits.
  • Assign inferior work responsibilities.

In addition, discrimination against someone based on that person’s gender identity or gender expression is against the law. What does the term gender expression mean? It refers to a person’s gender related appearance — and behavior — and it may not necessarily reflect that person’s assigned sex at birth.

Finally, unions and labor organizations are also prohibited from expelling, excluding, or limiting membership to any individual based on his or her sexual orientation.

Was I Discriminated Against Because Of My Sexual Orientation?

Sexual orientation discrimination can be difficult to identify because it does not always happen in the open. The vast majority of employers are aware that sexual orientation discrimination is unlawful. However, they will rarely say or do anything discriminatory in front of anyone, and are not likely to use blatantly discriminatory language in emails, texts, voicemails, etc.

Even so, there signs that an employer is discriminating against an employee because of his or her sexual orientation, such as:

  • Making comments or jokes about an employee’s sexual orientation.
  • Allowing or participating in a hostile work environment against gay employees.
  • Making jokes about an employee’s private sex life.
  • Limiting advancement opportunities for employees who are gay or who are perceived as gay.
  • Distributing offensive memes or videos.
  • Forcing gay employees to work on different job tasks than everyone else.
  • Forcing gay employees to quit.
  • Allowing sexual harassment.
  • Firing employees who change their gender identity or intend to do so.
  • When managers do not take discrimination claims seriously.

Can I Sue My Employer For Sexual Orientation Discrimination?

An employee who was discriminated against because of his or her sexual orientation is entitled to file a lawsuit against his or her employer. However, there are certain requirements that must be met first. Typically, a formal complaint must be filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) before a lawsuit can be filed in court.

An employee must obtain a right to sue letter before he or she can take a case to court. It is possible to forego a formal investigation and immediately request a right to sue notice, but the administrative agency will not investigate your claim which can be detrimental in the long run. This is only advisable if you have retained the services of an experienced discrimination lawyer.

Once you have filed a complaint, your employer — and anyone else involved in the lawsuit — will be served. Your case may or may not proceed to litigation. It is not uncommon for an employer and an aggrieved employee to reach a settlement outside of court.

Can I Be Fired For Reporting Sexual Orientation Discrimination?

Employees in the state of California cannot be retaliated against for reporting sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. This is considered wrongful termination, which is a violation of FEHA rules and an employee may be entitled to file a lawsuit for wrongful termination. 

FEHA offers protections for any employees who were retaliated against for:

  • Filing a sexual orientation discrimination claim.
  • Reporting sexual orientation discrimination or harassment.
  • Taking steps to oppose harassment in the workplace.
  • Aiding with sexual orientation discrimination investigations.

What Damages Are Available In A Sexual Orientation Discrimination Lawsuit?

Damages in a sexual discrimination lawsuit will depend not only on the type of discrimination involved, but on the extent of the actual harm. In general, damages from employment discrimination include:

  • Front and back pay.
  • Benefits (including pension benefits and bonus payments).
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Higher income from a promotion or a raise.
  • Emotional distress.

Depending on the circumstances, an employee may be entitled to punitive damages in addition to the normal damages they are already be entitled to. Punitive damages are intended as a way to punish a wrongdoer, and to discourage other employers from engaging in the same discriminatory behaviors.

What Can West Coast Employment Lawyers Do For You?

If you have made up your mind to take action, it is important to work with an attorney that specializes in cases like yours. The sexual orientation discrimination lawyers at West Coast Employment Lawyers have extensive experience handling sexual orientation discrimination cases. We will work tirelessly to gather the facts, find and interview eyewitnesses, hire experts, and fight for your rights.

We work on a contingency basis, which means we only get attorney’s fees if we are able to recover for you. Our legal team is available 24/7 and will take care of your case from start to finish. For a free no-obligation consultation with a sexual orientation discrimination attorney in California, contact our office at 1-800-247-9235.

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