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Sexual Orientation Issues

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Although Title VII does not specifically protect workers because of their sexual orientation, 20 states and the District of Columbia have laws that do. Similarly, 10 states and the District of Columbia have laws barring private employers from discriminating based on gender identity. Many municipalities also have sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances.

Despite Title VII’s silence on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, federal courts have increasingly brought these types of discrimination under the Civil Rights Act umbrella. For example, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employer discriminating based on gender stereotypes and identity violated Title VII. Barnes v. City of Cincinnati, 401 F. 3d 729 (2005) Not all federal appeals courts have addressed this issue.

Generally, the law requires employers to provide a harassment-free workplace, so a company policy barring harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity best protects the employer and lets employees know exactly what the rules are.

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