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Understanding LGBTQ Protections in California Workplaces

As a country, the US has made huge strides in civil rights protections over the past several decades. However, there is still a long way to go. California has long been a leader among the states in expanding legal protections and enshrining new civil rights into law. This is just as true for LGBTQ protections today as it was for gender equality forty years ago. 

One way California has set a positive example for the nation is by providing clear and specific protections for LGBTQ people in the workplace. If you are a member of the queer community, you’re protected under state law from discriminatory employment action. Keep reading to learn how California protects you, examples of illegal discrimination you may have suffered, and what you can do if you’ve been discriminated against for your sexuality or gender presentation.

The Difference Between Federal and California Discrimination Laws

Federal laws on civil rights are often slow to change. In many cases, the exact interpretation of critical laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is left to the courts to decide instead of having Congress pass new laws. In contrast, California legislators have a longstanding tendency to enshrine rights into laws rather than waiting for lawsuits to reach the state Supreme Court and set precedents. 

This means that despite attitudes toward LGBTQ people changing nationwide, there remains a significant gulf between the federal government’s and California’s protections. Under the original Civil Rights Act, protected classes include: 

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex

This has been expanded to cover other groups, including:

  • Disability (under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990)
  • Pregnancy (under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978)
  • Age over 40 (under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967)

In the text of these federal laws, there is no mention of LGBTQ matters. Supreme Court rulings have determined that taking adverse employment actions against LGBTQ people violates the Civil Rights Act’s protections based on sex. However, the Court has recently demonstrated that it is willing to reverse its past decisions when it repealed Roe v. Wade, so this is no longer the protection it used to be. Finally, these laws only apply to employers with fifteen or more workers. 

In contrast, California specifically names LGBTQ groups in its Fair Employment and Housing Act. It designates all the classes above but adds:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender
  • Gender identity
  • Gender expression

In addition, these protections apply to all employers with five or more employees. As a result, protections for these groups in California are significantly more robust, making it easier for queer people to find employment and keep it. 

Examples of Illegal LGBTQ Employment Discrimination in California

Despite these strong protections, many California residents don’t realize the extent of their legal rights. If you are a member of the LGBTQ community, you may have experienced illegal discrimination without realizing it. Common examples of discrimination that are illegal in California include:

  • Asking about gender or sexual orientation in interviews: Interviewers cannot ask you about your orientation or gender in interviews. If they include it on an application, you do not have to answer, and they may not make hiring decisions based on your response or lack thereof.
  • Asking about marital status in interviews: Marital status is also protected, regardless of the gender of your spouse. Asking about whether you’re married can be another way to identify your sexual orientation and is not permitted.
  • Requiring gendered dress codes: If employers require dress codes, they cannot be based on gender identity or expression. They may provide different types of permissible clothing or uniforms but may not restrict some people from wearing items like skirts or pants.
  • Purposeful deadnaming or misgendering: If you have transitioned, purposefully using your deadname or the incorrect pronouns may be considered discriminatory harassment.
  • Excluding gender-affirming care in insurance: If a California employer provides insurance for their employees, that insurance must cover gender-affirming care such as hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery.
  • Firing, cutting hours, or refusing to promote based on gender expression: Employers can’t take adverse actions against workers for failing to conform to traditional gender expression. 

The Impact of California’s Strong Discrimination Laws

California’s LGBTQ workplace discrimination laws have an outsized impact on some of the most vulnerable workers in the state. By providing these protections, the state gives LGBTQ workers the resources to stand up to employers who mistreat them. If any of the situations above sound familiar, you may have grounds to file a discrimination lawsuit against your employer to pursue compensation for the losses you’ve suffered. 

If you suspect you’ve been discriminated against because of your gender identity, presentation, or sexual orientation, you can get help. Here’s what you can do to fight for your rights to fair employment:

  • Document your treatment: Save communication with your employer that demonstrates how you have been discriminated against, and write down or record instances of harassment.
  • File a complaint: If you feel safe enough to do so, file a complaint with your manager or the company’s Human Resources department to demonstrate that you’re acting in good faith.
  • Get legal help: If your complaint does not resolve the harassment or discrimination you face, consult an experienced employment law attorney to decide your next steps.

Expert Legal Counsel for Victims of LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination

California has put many protections in place for LGBTQ people, but they don’t prevent discrimination in the workplace. Instead, they offer workers the chance to fight back when they are discriminated against. If you have lost opportunities or experienced a hostile workplace because of your gender or orientation, you deserve expert legal assistance from the team at Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP. 

Our knowledgeable attorneys have years of experience fighting for LGBTQ protections in California. We are available to assist you with pursuing fair employment regardless of why you are being harassed. Schedule your consultation today to learn more about how we can help you. 

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