Employees who identify as lesbian may not have as many rights as you may think. Depending on the state, lesbian workers may be let go simply for being of a different sexual orientation. In fact, according to the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, 15 to 43 percent of gay and transgender employees experienced workplace discrimination; eight to 17 percent were not hired or were fired due to discrimination; and seven to 41 percent were abused verbally or physically.
Under Federal Law
The federal law is not a friend to the lesbian community. While federal law prohibits racial, gender or religious discrimination against workers, it does not mention sexual orientation discrimination. This allows companies to discriminate against fully competent employees if their sexual orientation doesn't align with management's. Also, according to section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), only heterosexual marriages count as marriages, meaning that lesbian couples miss out on more than 1,100 federal benefits, including the ability to file their yearly tax returns together as a married couple. This causes unnecessary confusion for employers, and many (including Microsoft) are urging the Supreme Court to change the law. Under DOMA, the average married gay employee paid $1,000 more a year in taxes than married straight employees.
Under State Law
In spite of the federal law, many states have passed legislation prohibiting sexual-orientation discrimination in public and private sectors. Among these states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. While federal law doesn't recognize the union between two women as a marriage, nine states (plus Washington DC) do. This creates a conflict of federal and state law that means employer must deal with separate payroll systems, tax treatments and health-care benefits.
Under The Fortune 500
Lesbian workers may face less discrimination and reap more benefits if working for a Fortune 500 company. Fortune 500 companies together employ nearly 25 million people, and 87 percent of the Fortune 500 prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Forty-six percent prohibit gender-identity discrimination. Fifty-eight percent provide health insurance benefits to domestic partners. Actually, the higher on the list of Fortune magazine's list, the more likely the business is to have protections and benefits in place for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. Of the Fortune 10, nine companies prohibit sexual-orientation discrimination; six prohibit gender-identity discrimination; and eight provide health benefits for domestic partners.
Under The Employment Non-discrimination Act
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has faced defeat time and time again in Congress, but it continues to gain supporters. The latest version of the bill was introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). ENDA prohibits employment discrimination of sexual orientation and gender identity by employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees. Further, ENDA allows the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Librarian of Congress, the Attorney General and US. courts the same powers of enforcement they hold under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Catalyst: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Workplace Issues
- Washington Post: End Discrimination Against Gays in the Workplace
- Economist: Why Employers Are Urging the Supreme Court to Back Gay Marriage
- Human Rights Campaign: LGBT Equality at the Fortune 500
- ACLU: Landmark Bill Introduced in Senate Today to Ban Workplace Discrimination Based on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
- Thomas: Bill Summary and Status
Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.