Are workers protected from sexual orientation discrimination?

Not very long ago, anyone considered to be of an "alternative sexual orientation" such as bisexual, lesbian, gay, heterosexual -- or just being perceived as such -- was in danger of harassment at work. For this reason, most people kept their sexual orientation a secret at work, out of a fear that they could lose their jobs. Even though the social climate has changed with regard to society's views on sexual orientation, many workers continue to stay private about this subject because of the lack of employment protections.

Although federal law offers protection from sexual orientation discrimination in government jobs, it does not protect workers from this kind of discrimination and harassment in the private sector. The same is true with the state of Arizona: government employees working for the state are protected but private sector employees are not in Arizona. Fortunately, however, the city of Phoenix does protect private sector workers from this kind of discrimination.

The City of Phoenix Human Relations Ordinance

The City of Phoenix Human Relations Ordinance used to only offer the typical employment protections against discrimination related to race, sex, religion, color and marital status. However, several years ago it was expanded to include protections relating to gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. It also protects individuals with disabilities.

The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) could bring federal protections to employees regarding sexual orientation discrimination. However, it has not yet been passed and it's unknown whether the proposed legislation will succeed in Congress.

Workplace discrimination victims: Don't rule out your ability to seek justice

Workers who have been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation in Phoenix may benefit from protection under city laws. Workers who don't work in Phoenix, however, should not rule out their ability to pursue justice and restitution. Every case of sexual orientation discrimination is unique and multifaceted. A host of factors could be present that give the worker who was harmed by discrimination other avenues for seeking justice under the law.

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Elizabeth D. Tate, Attorney at Law
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Phoenix, AZ 85004

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