This week was a historic week in professional sports. NBA center Jason Collins came out as gay, becoming the first male professional athlete to do so. The NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL all ban sexual orientation discrimination in their leagues, but nonetheless no one has felt comfortable coming out publicly until Collins.
Collins' historic announcement this week reminds us that many Americans do in fact work in workplaces where sexual orientation discrimination is not banned. In both Maryland and Washington, D.C., it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or job applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation, but sexual orientation discrimination is not specifically barred by federal law.
Twenty-nine states have outlawed discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation, but federal law has been slow to incorporate an anti- discrimination protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 only went so far to ban employment discrimination that is based on race, religion, color, sex or nationality. The Americans with Disabilities Act outlaws discrimination on the basis of disability or a perceived disability.
Last week, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would ban discrimination against LGBT workers. A similar bill is also currently being introduced in the House.
For now, it is unfortunately legal to discriminate against an employee on the basis of his or her sexuality in many states--although it should be noted that many employers do already ban such discrimination in company policies. Additionally, LGBT workers who have been discriminated against by employers in such states may be able to file claims under sex discrimination or sexual harassment statutes as the unlawful behavior may often overlap into these areas.
Source: Bloomberg, "The End to Workplace Discrimination Against Gays," April 24, 2013