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EEOC rules that sexual orientation discrimination is illegal

California employees should be aware that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced on July 15 that discrimination against employees for their gender or sexual orientation is illegal. In fact, the ruling indicated that discrimination against transgender, gay, lesbian or bisexual individuals was illegal under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, even though sexual orientation was not highlighted under Title VII.

In order for an employee to argue that they were discriminated against in the workplace, a gender or sex-based component would still need to be present. One of the examples that was cited by the EEOC involved a woman who was suspended from her work for having a picture of her wife on her desk. Her male coworker was allowed to keep a picture of his wife on his desk and did not receive any disciplinary action.

This ruling contradicted what some U.S. federal courts have decided in the past. The previous decisions argued that protection against discrimination for gender or sexual orientation was not speciifically enumerated in Title VII. In general, EEOC rulings do often have influence when it comes to the courts.

In the state of California, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees due to their sexual orientation or gender. If employees have faced sexual orientation discrimination while working and it affected their ability to move forward in their career or caused them emotional distress, an attorney may assist them with filing a claim with the appropriate agency. In some cases, the attorney may use evidence that includes any emails, text messages or conversations that may indicate that the employee's sexual orientation or gender resulted in retaliation or a wrongful termination.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace", July 19, 2015

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