Check state, local laws on sexual-orientation bias

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

No federal law grants job discrimination protection for people due to their sexual orientation or "gender identity," but many employers are unaware that several state and local laws make workplace bias against homosexuals illegal.

Recently, a Pennsylvania appeals court upheld a local ordinance in Allentown that outlawed job discrimination against employees based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Several Allentown business owners had sued, arguing that since federal and state law didn't cover this type of discrimination, local laws couldn't either. But the court said local governments are free to pass laws that offer greater protection to workers than either federal or state laws. (Hartman, et al., v. City of Allentown, PA, Commonwealth Court, No. 1708, 2005)

Advice: Find out your state government's stance on sexual-orientation bias. The Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group, offers a state-by-state list of workplace nondiscrimination laws at www.hrc.org (click on "Work Life" in left column). To check if your local government has such a law, contact the local employment opportunity commission or labor department.

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