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Courts act to extend workplace protections to LGBT employees

Societal attitudes toward the LGBT community have been evolving, but efforts to protect gay and transgender workers in Texas and around the country from on-the-job discrimination and harassment have repeatedly been stymied in Congress. However, judicial decisions indicate that courts may be willing to take a progressive stance on this issue even if some of the nation's lawmakers are reluctant to do so.

President Clinton issued an executive order that prohibited federal employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation in 1995, and President Obama has extended this protection to cover the employees of government contractors. However, the courts have been hesitant to order private employers to meet the same standards. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on certain factors including race, religion and gender, and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that LGBT individuals are also entitled to the protections guaranteed by that law.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that transgender individuals were covered by the sexual discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act, and a federal appeals court ruled in 1989 that transgender workers could not be denied rights that are guaranteed to all Americans. The legal status of gay workers is more ambiguous, but most experts believe that the EEOC will be pursuing the issue aggressively in the courts after clarifying its position.

Workers who suffer discrimination or harassment are often reluctant to file a complaint, and this may be particularly true when the law is less than clear. Experienced employment law attorneys could assess the merits of a harassment or discrimination complaint and explain the protections provided by the Civil Rights Act.

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