Understanding workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of protected categories including race, color, sex, and religion, among others.

However, although not specifically stated, courts have expanded the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex to include discriminatory practices against someone because of his or her sexual orientation.

Along with understanding what forms of discrimination are illegal, it's vital for people to understand the types of specific instances that occur in the workplace classified as discriminatory.

Examples of discriminatory practices in the workplace

Many people would likely assume that firing or demoting an individual because of his or her religion or sex, for example, is illegal and an unauthorized discriminatory workplace practice. However, there are many other types of discriminatory practices that aren't so black and white people may not realize are just as illegal.

A case in point involves a woman had received a "questionable" workplace write-up. The woman had informed various co-workers that she was expecting a baby with her same-sex partner. She handed out baby shower invitations throughout the office. The information pertaining to her sexual orientation filtered to her boss who subsequently wrote the employee up for "disrupting daily work activities"-despite the commonality of the action by previous heterosexual co-workers.

The employee wasn't fired or demoted but received disciplinary treatment as a result of her sex.

Another example includes an employer who made threats to an employee if she failed to change certain character traits. The employee was told that if she walked and talked more femininely and wore make-up, it would vastly improve her chances at becoming a partner in the firm. Although, this example is a bit less obvious, one can deduce that the instance is a threat tied directly to her sexual orientation.

It's important to note that, for arguments sake, both examples are generalizations to prove that workplace discrimination is far from black and white and that much more information is needed to assess liability under the law.

Consulting with an employment lawyer

Employees with questions about discriminatory practices conducted at their workplace because of their sexual orientation or other reasons should consult with an experienced employment law attorney.

A knowledge lawyer who understands the intricate areas of the law can offer advice as it pertains to individual circumstances.

Employees are also encouraged to examine the company's employee handbook for information on specific prohibited practices and procedures to follow if such instances occur.