Sexual orientation discrimination describes the unequal treatment of employees based on a particular perceived sexual designation – gay, lesbian, bisexual, or even heterosexual. Though there are similar related types of discrimination, such as gender identity or sex discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination often gets its own category of protection under the law.

There is currently no federal legislation generally prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Even though it is not illegal according to the leading authority on federal civil rights law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, sexual orientation discrimination may still be illegal in certain workplaces where it is prohibited under state or local laws.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the States

Many of the states and the District of Columbia have laws in place to protect workers from sexual orientation discrimination. In fact, 21 states have laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination and 18 states and the District of Columbia protect workers against gender identity discrimination.  Cities and counties may also protect workers and citizens against this particular type of discrimination. Additionally, many private companies have policies in place that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination as well.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination in California

California is one of the 21 states that has made it illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation. According to California law, sexual orientation means heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality. Gender includes a person’s sex at birth as well as his or her gender expression. California law protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation as well as from discrimination based on the perception of a particular sexual orientation.

Specifically, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires that workplaces remain free of discrimination on the basis of gender, gender expression, gender identity (as with transgendered individuals) or sexual orientation. This discrimination is prohibited in hiring, firing, training, compensation and all other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. Additionally, employees must take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment based on these characteristics.

The FEHA applies to employees with 5 or more employees. This means that only employers with 5 or more full-time or part-time employees are covered by the law. This is important because, in order to prove sexual orientation discrimination has occurred, an employee must first show that an employer is covered by the law. An employee must also show proof that he or she was an employee harmed due to the unlawful action taken against the employee based on his or her sexual orientation. It is necessary according to the law that sexual orientation be a motivating reason for the unlawful action. It is also necessary to show that the unlawful action was a substantial factor for the harm the employer caused.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination Cases

Even with legislation in place in many states, sexual orientation discrimination cases are not common. New federal legislation currently awaiting passage could change that. When sexual orientation becomes an issue at your place of employment, you’ll need a trustworthy attorney with vast knowledge of current state and local laws available for your protection. Contact Shegerian & Associates today for the experienced legal assistance you need to successfully address your sexual orientation case.