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DOJ argues sexual orientation is not protected by federal law

People who have faced discrimination at work due to their sexual orientation in Florida and across the country may be concerned after a filing by the Department of Justice. The filing argues that discrimination based on sexual orientation cannot be characterized as sex discrimination.

It takes a position that is at variance from that taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is also a federal agency dealing with workplace discrimination. This leads to an unusual situation in which two federal agencies have weighed in on the same case with differing opinions.

The case involves a former skydiving instructor who was fired from his job after he disclosed his sexual orientation to a client; the plaintiff identifies as gay. His lawsuit was dismissed by a federal district court, and it is now being heard by the full Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Department of Justice argued in its amicus brief that sexual orientation discrimination cannot be considered a form of sex discrimination as it does not stem from employees of one sex being treated differently or worse than employees of another sex. It also argued that Congress would need to amend federal civil rights law in order for this change in understandings of the term to be implemented. LGBT groups criticized the brief, noting the contradiction with the EEOC's expressed position on the issue.

Federal civil rights statutes are not the only form of protection that people have against workplace discrimination. State statutes as well as local ordinances may also be relevant depending on the characteristics of a person's employer. In Florida, there are a number of local ordinances that specifically protect people from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Workplace discrimination can take many forms, including harassment or discriminatory treatment based on race, sex, age, disability and other protected characteristics. An employment lawyer can help those experiencing discrimination on the job to seek justice and compensation.

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