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Is Workplace Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation Illegal?

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If you think federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation, you would be wrong. In fact, while federal law - specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - does outlaw workplace discrimination based on sex, race, religion, color or national origin, it does not specifically protect employees from sexual orientation discrimination.

However, just because the federal government hasn't outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation doesn't mean individual states haven't. Indeed, not only does Maryland law prohibit the same forms of discrimination barred by Title VII, but also several other forms of discrimination including discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Maryland sexual orientation discrimination law: A quick overview

Specifically, Maryland law states that an employer may not fire, refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate against someone because of their "race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, or disability."

In the most basic sense, sexual orientation discrimination occurs any time an employee, or potential employee, is treated differently solely because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. This applies regardless of whether the victim is gay/homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual or straight, and can include the following situations:

  • Employers refusing to hire or promote employees or job candidates based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation, even if the employee or job candidate is not of that orientation.
  • Employers giving preferential treatment to other employees or job candidates based on their sexual orientation.
  • Employers giving employees unjustifiably low ratings or job performance reviews because of their sexual orientation.
  • Employers or co-workers threatening or bullying employees because of their sexual orientation.
  • Employers or co-workers making jokes or disparaging remarks about other employees' sexual orientation, particularly if the jokes and/or remarks create an intimidating or hostile work environment.

However, it is also important to mention that while federal law doesn't specifically prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, it does provide protection to victims of general sexual harassment, including same-sex harassment, regardless of the sexual orientation of the victims.

As you can imagine, navigating the complex web of state and federal laws can be quite difficult, especially if you try to do it yourself. This is why you should always contact an experienced employment law attorney should you have any questions about discrimination in the workplace.

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