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Are there laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination?

Last week, this blog discussed the story of a Minnesota man who won a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit. His win was significant in part because of the large payout he received. His case gives hope to others who may feel they are being discriminated against at work due to their sexual orientation. However, let's take a step back and explore what sexual orientation discrimination is in the context of employment discrimination.

Sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace involves being harassed or otherwise treated differently at work based on the individual's orientation as gay, lesbian or bi-sexual. It can also occur to heterosexual individuals or even based on someone's perception of another's sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, as the law currently stands, there are no federal statutes that protect private sector workers against workplace discrimination based on their sexual orientation. However, some states, including Minnesota, have laws on the books that protect both private sector and public sector employees against sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. Gender identity discrimination in the workplace is also prohibited under Minnesota law. In addition, company policy may also protect employees against sexual harassment in the workplace. These policies can be stricter than state law, but cannot be less strict.

There are also other legal bases upon which an individual might be able to bring a lawsuit due to sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. For example, one could allege their employer or coworker caused them negligent or intentional emotional distress. Harassment that served no legitimate purpose and led to emotional distress may also form the basis of a lawsuit. Sexual harassment or wrongful termination might also serve as the basis for legal action, as may invasion of privacy and defamation. Finally, assault and battery are two other reasons an individual might pursue legal action.

However, anyone considering taking legal action due to sexual orientation discrimination would be well-served to consult with an attorney. This post cannot serve as legal advice or provide the basis of a lawsuit, but an attorney can help explain your options, including determining whether a lawsuit is a possibility.

Source: FindLaw, "Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace," accessed Aug. 28, 2016

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