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Federal court recognizes sexual orientation discrimination

Although New York has state laws that prohibit discrimination against employees because of their sexual orientation, federal law has yet to adequately address the subject. A recent ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals broadened the interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to apply to people harmed by sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

Originally, the district court and a three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit ruled against a part-time professor at a community college who claimed that her employer denied her a full-time position because she was a lesbian. After requesting a hearing before the entire panel of circuit judges, her case gained a favorable ruling. On an 8-3 decision, the majority of judges held that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation fell within the scope of federal law that protected workers from sex discrimination.

This ruling indicated a shift from other circuit courts. A recent case before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the employer even though the plaintiff claimed that he had been taunted at work for being gay. In the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges dismissed a case that involved a woman who lost her security job because her employer insisted that she did not "carry herself in a traditional woman manner."

When a person encounters hostility at work, loses a job or is denied employment because of age, disability, sex, religion or national origin, an attorney could review the evidence about workplace discrimination. A lawsuit could be prepared by an attorney that details which state or federal laws were broken and how the worker falls within a protected category. During a trial, the attorney could present documentation of the person's ill treatment and seek a settlement for lost wages.

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