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Sexual Orientation Discrimination and Harassment

Unfortunately, sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace is still a persistent problem. Unlike in some states, Maine’s civil rights laws expressly protect workers from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Attorneys with the Maine Employee Rights Group have represented workers who have suffered from discrimination due to the fact that they are lesbians, gay, or bisexual. If an employer has discriminated against you because of your sexual orientation, we can help you. (As discussed elsewhere on our website, the Maine Employee Rights Group also represents transgender workers who suffer from discrimination based on their gender identity.)

What is Sexual Orientation Discrimination?

Sexual orientation discrimination happens when employers take adverse actions against a worker because of the worker’s sexual orientation. For instance, an employer cannot terminate a lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) employee because of their sexual orientation. Other examples of unlawful sexual orientation discrimination include refusing to hire or promote a LGB person because of their sexual orientation or because they married someone of the same sex.

Another form of discrimination is harassment against LGB people which creates a hostile work environment. Supervisors, co-workers, vendors, or customers can create a hostile work environment through verbal, written, or physical harassment.

Some examples of behavior that may create a hostile work environment include:

  • Homophobic slurs;
  • Deriding a gay person because they do not conform to traditional views on how men and women should look, dress, or behave;
  • Insensitive statements, such as through email or text message, about how a person has sex with their partner;
  • Offensive jokes about LGB people;
  • Negative comments about a specific person’s sexual orientation or LGB people in general.

People can create a hostile work environment in a myriad of ways. If you are uncertain whether you have experienced illegal sexual orientation discrimination, contact an experienced employment lawyer.

Maine and U.S. Law Protects Workers From Sexual Orientation Discrimination

The Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) expressly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) also has regulations which interpret and clarify the prohibitions against sexual orientation discrimination in the MHRA. Additionally, the MHRC publishes a list of questions that employers may not ask applicants because the answers could reveal information about whether an applicant is a member of a protected group. This list of prohibited questions includes questions about the applicant’s spouse since answers to those questions could reveal the applicant’s sexual orientation.

In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination, also prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. In the landmark civil rights case called Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court recognized that, as a matter of simple logic, it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that person because of sex.

Under the MHRA and Title VII, a victim of sexual orientation discrimination can file a complaint with the MHRC. The MHRC will cross file with complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, if appropriate, and then conduct an investigation. Whether a lawyer represents you or not, the MHRC is the first step in the process of pursuing a claim of sexual orientation discrimination. The Maine Employee Rights Group frequently files complaints for our clients with the MHRC and we have decades of experience representing clients through the MHRC’s process. Before filing a complaint with the MHRC, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney such as one of the experienced attorneys at the Maine Employee Rights Group.

Victims of Sexual Orientation Discrimination are Entitled to Compensation for Damages

Victims of sexual orientation discrimination are entitled to compensation for damages if they can prove they have suffered damages due to the discrimination. Damages that victims of discrimination often experience are lost pay, lost employee benefits, harm to reputation, and emotional distress. Sometimes, employers also have to pay punitive damages if they are found to have discriminated against a worker because of their sexual orientation.

Trust Our Experienced Attorneys With Your Case

If an employer has discriminated against you because of your sexual orientation and you want to do something about it, the Maine Employee Rights Group may be able to help you. The employment discrimination lawyers at the Maine Employee Rights Group are intimately familiar with the laws that protect working people. We represent workers throughout Maine, from Kittery to Presque Isle and all places in between. Call 207.874.0905 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.