LGBT Workers and Employment Discrimination: What Employers Should Know

FMLA-Benefits-Same-Sex-SpousesNew guidance released by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) highlights what employers should know about the agency’s enforcement efforts on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals under federal employment discrimination laws.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. This federal law applies generally to employers with 15 or more employees.

The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

EEOC Guidance

The EEOC takes the position that discrimination against an individual because that person is transgender is a violation of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination in employment. Therefore, the EEOC’s district, field, area, and local offices are expected to accept and investigate charges from individuals who believe they have been discriminated against because of transgender status (or because of gender identity or a gender transition).

In addition, the EEOC takes the position that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals may bring valid Title VII sex discrimination claims, as Title VII also protects such individuals against sex discrimination. The EEOC is expected to accept and investigate charges alleging sexual-orientation discrimination, such as claims of sexual harassment or allegations that an adverse action was taken because of a person’s failure to conform to sex-stereotypes.

The text of the guidance is available by clicking here. A brochure regarding the prevention of employment discrimination against LGBT workers is also available.

Our section on Discrimination has more information regarding employer obligations under federal nondiscrimination laws.

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