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Celebrating Diversity, Demanding Change: LGBTQ+ Workers' Battle in California's Workforce

As we celebrate Pride Month at Payton Employment Law, PC, we want to take a moment to reflect upon the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace. Despite significant progress in recent years, unfair treatment and discrimination persist, casting a shadow over the professional lives of many LGBTQ+ workers. In California, a state known for its progressive stance on LGBTQ+ rights, there are still prevalent issues that demand our attention.


Discrimination in Hiring and Recruitment:


Over 8 million workers in the US identify as LGBTQ+, according to a study done by UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute in 2021, and 29.8% of those employees reported experiencing employment discrimination during the hiring and recruitment process because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.


Despite laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, individuals may experience biases that hinder their access to employment opportunities. Prejudice and stereotypes can unfairly influence the decision-making process, denying LGBTQ+ workers equal consideration for employment.


Workplace Harassment and Hostile Environment:


About one-third of LGBTQ+ workers reported experiencing at least one form of harassment at work. LGBTQ+ workers often encounter various forms of harassment, including verbal, physical, or emotional abuse, which create a hostile work environment. Derogatory comments, offensive jokes, or even physical threats are distressing and emotionally damaging. These actions not only violate an individual's rights but also hinder their ability to thrive in their professional lives.


Unequal Treatment and Pay Disparities:


Unequal treatment of LGBTQ+ workers can manifest in multiple ways, including disparities in pay and career advancement opportunities. A Human Rights Center Foundation analysis of nearly 7,000 full-time LGBTQ+ workers found that they earn about 90 cents for every dollar that the typical worker earns. LGBTQ+ people of color, transgender women and men and non-binary individuals earn even less when compared to the typical worker. This data was reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics after the first quarter of 2023.


LGBTQ+ individuals may also face subtle or overt biases when it comes to promotions, raises, or job assignments. This inequality not only affects an individual's earning potential but also erodes their sense of belonging and fairness within the workplace.


Limited Legal Protections:


While California has been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ rights, there are still areas where legal protections remain limited. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act (Title VII) both make it illegal for employers to fire, demote, fail to hire, fail to promote, harass, or otherwise discriminate against employees because of theirsexual orientation or gender identity.


While the majority of employees in California are covered under these laws, the following types of employees are exempt:

  • Certain employees of religious entities like churches and mosques; and

  • Employees of very small employers. With the exception of the anti-harassment laws which apply to entities with any number of employees or independent contractors, the California protections under the FEHA apply to entities with at least 5 employees, and federal discrimination protections apply to entities with at least 15 employees.

Further, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals may face unique challenges. Access to appropriate restrooms, healthcare benefits, and gender-affirming policies are often lacking or inadequate, leading to marginalization and unequal treatment.


Lack of Inclusive Policies and Practices:


Creating an inclusive workplace environment goes beyond legal compliance. Many organizations fail to establish comprehensive policies and practices that actively support and protect LGBTQ+ workers. This lack of inclusivity can result in LGBTQ+ individuals feeling unsupported, marginalized, or forced to conceal their identities to fit into traditional workplace norms.


According to the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute study, many LGBTQ+ employees reported engaging in “covering” behavior to avoid harassment at work, including:

  • changing their physical appearance;

  • changing when, where, or how frequently they used the bathroom; and

  • avoiding talking about their families or social lives at work.

Some even reported engaging in these covering behaviors because they were told to do so by their supervisors or co-workers.


Bringing attention to the hardships faced by LGBTQ+ workers in the California workplace is just one way to initiate change. Discrimination, harassment, unequal treatment, limited legal protections, and the absence of inclusive policies are significant challenges that demand our attention and action. At the same time, it’s just as important to be aware of your rights as an LGBTQ+ worker in California and to recognize when those rights are being violated.


If you or someone you know has experienced discrimination or unfair treatment in the workplace, we encourage you to reach out to our office for a confidential review of your case to understand your rights and explore possible remedies.


At Payton Employment Law, PC, we are committed to advocating for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and fighting against workplace discrimination and harassment. We stand alongside the LGBTQ+ community in their pursuit of fair treatment and equal opportunities, not only during Pride Month but every day of the year.


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The information provided in this blog post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. All content and information in this blog post are for general informational purposes only. Reading this blog post does not create or constitute an attorney-client relationship. An attorney-client relationship is only created by written agreement.




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