Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace: Definition, Laws & Cases

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  • 0:00 Sexual Orientation…
  • 0:46 The History
  • 2:30 Laws and Cases
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: JC Wright
In this lesson you will learn about sexual orientation discrimination. We'll also cover the laws that were created to protect individuals based on their sexual orientation as well as court cases surrounding discrimination in the workplace.

Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Sexual orientation discrimination is when people are treated unfairly because of their sexual orientation, their perceived sexual orientation, or by their association to someone of a different orientation.

It is important to mention that sexual orientation includes all sexual orientations, but the discrimination almost always involves the LGBT, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, which will be the primary focus of this lesson. In recent years, due to the visibility of unequal treatment of this minority, more and more companies, as well as the federal government, have invested resources in ensuring the safety of employees who are subject to sexual orientation discrimination.

The History

It's important to look at some of the history of the LGBT community to give context to its continuing struggles. Let's start with the Stonewall riots, which are generally credited with giving rise to the gay liberation movement in the United States. In the 1950s and '60s, it wasn't uncommon for police to specifically target gay establishments. But a 1969 raid by police at the Stonewall Inn in New York City didn't go as planned, resulting in a series of violent protests by members of the gay community against police. The result was even more activism in the city. Within months, activists had organized to create safe spaces for gays and lesbians to gather, and publications had sprung up to promote gay and lesbian rights.

LGBT activism also came to the forefront in the 1980s during the height of the AIDS epidemic in America. The media labeled AIDS a gay disease and diagnosed patients were, for the most part, ignored and deprived of proper medical attention. That is, until the LGBT community pulled together to advocate for AIDS patients and lobby the government for funds for care, treatment, and prevention of the disease.

The new millennium brought to light the fight for marriage equality. Throughout American history, certain populations were restricted to marry one another: Slaves were not allowed to marry because they were considered property, interracial marriage was not legal until the late 1960s, and same sex couples didn't have the same right to marriage as their heterosexual counterparts in all states until June 2015.

Laws and Cases

The LGBT community has been fighting for almost 50 years outside of the workplace, but what strides have been legally enforced to finally get the fair and equal treatment that's deserved by all people inside the workplace? Hate crimes that are based on sexual orientation are punishable by federal law under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hates Crimes Prevention Act. This law was passed by Congress in 2009 and protects against any acts of violence that are motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. This law also requires funding (millions of dollars) to state and local governments for adequate resources to investigate hate crimes, as well as requiring statistical tracking of crimes based on gender and gender identity.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is an agency that enforces laws that prohibit workforce discrimination. In 2011, this organization included lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals and ruled that any acts of discrimination within these groups violated Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964. This act prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.

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