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"Virginia Values Act": A Major Victory for LGBT Employees in VA

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Until now, options were limited for LGBT employees in Virginia. They could file a complaint with the EEOC, but only if their employer had more than 15 employees. And while there were protections for LGBT employees in the public sector and in certain Virginia municipalities, there was no Virginia state law against LGBT discrimination. However, that is about to change with the Virginia Values Act, which recently passed both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. With the introduction of this bill, Virginia will become the first Southern state to ban discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Virginia employers and employees should familiarize themselves with the bill, which is expected to be signed into law by Governor Northam. 

Who Does the Law Currently Protect? The Virginia Human Rights Act only prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions by employers with 6-14 employees. Additionally, the VA HRA currently prohibits age discrimination by employers with 6-19 employees.

What Does the Bill Change? Now it is illegal under Virginia state law for employers to discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

What Do Employers Need to Know? The new law imposes an employee-friendly "motivating factor" test for liability. If an employment action is motivated even in part by discriminatory intent, an employer is on the hook for discrimination. This is in contrast with other anti-discrimination laws that require a higher burden of proof.

What Do Employees Need to Know? The new bill creates an additional right to challenge discrimination-employees will now have the option to file in either state or federal court. An advantage of filing in state court is that the new bill allows uncapped damages.

If you have any questions related to the "Virginia Values Act" or any other aspect of employment law, contact Thatcher Law Firm at 301-441-1400.

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