Rites of Marriage v. Rights of Employment, Housing & Public Accommodation

Gay and lesbian Americans can now marry, but they, like the entire LGBT community, can also be potentially fired or refused service at a restaurant, hotel or countless other public places just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The decision rendered by the U. S. Supreme Court on June 26, 2015 establishing marriage equality as the law of the land was a monumental and historic advancement for LGBT equality. Gay and lesbian couples in all 50 states now have full and equal access to marriage and all of its attendant rights, benefits, protections, and validation of their human dignity. But what protections exist for those happy couples in the context of their employment, in their housing, and in public accommodations? The answer to that is a mixed bag.

Currently sexual orientation and gender identity are not characteristics that are explicitly covered by the federal anti-discrimination laws, nor by the Florida anti-discrimination laws. However, some protections do exist:

  1. Many local jurisdictions in Florida have enacted human rights ordinances that prohibit discrimination against LGBTs in employment, housing, and public accommodations (restaurants, retail stores, hotels, public arenas, etc). These jurisdictions include Orange, Volusia, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Hillsborough Counties. In these jurisdictions, it is illegal to fire someone, or deny housing to someone, or deny a public service to someone, because they are LGBT. If this happens to you, there are legal remedies that you can pursue on the local level.
  2. President Obama has enacted an Executive Order that prohibits discrimination against LGBTs who work for the federal government. Each federal agency has its own equal employment opportunity (EEO) office to administer these protections.
  3. President Obama has also enacted an Executive Order that prohibits discrimination against LGBTs who work for any company that contracts with the federal government. The federal government administers these protections.
  4. Although the federal and state employment discrimination laws do not explicitly cover sexual orientation and gender identity, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the federal agency that administers the anti-discrimination laws) has recently interpreted the applicable federal law to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. So currently you can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC against your employer for discrimination/harassment based on your sexual orientation or gender identity.
  5. The federal Fair Housing Act does not specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited bases. However, housing providers that receive HUD funding, have loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), as well as lenders insured by FHA, may be subject to HUD program regulations intended to ensure equal access of LGBT persons. In addition, HIV/AIDS is protected under the Fair Housing Act as a disability.

Contact Attorney Mary Meeks to find out about your rights, or to make sure that your business is complying with these laws.

Mary Meeks has practiced law in Central Florida for over 25 years and has the highest rating by the Martindale-Hubbell National Lawyer’s Registry.  She represents individuals, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies. Ms. Meeks is an accomplished civil trial lawyer who currently concentrates her practice in employment law, including cases involving discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age, disability, religion, gender, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual harassment and retaliation.  For more information, www.MaryMeeksLaw.com

What is Harassment and When is it Illegal?

Workplace harassment is illegal if it is based on protected characteristics covered by federal, state, or local anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).  But how is harassment legally defined?

Offensive conduct in the workplace that is based on race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, or even genetic information, can be unlawful harassment if it is considered “severe” or “pervasive.”  Petty or isolated instances of harassment are not usually considered unlawful. However, if harassment creates an abusive or hostile work environment, then that harassment has crossed a line and is illegal. It is also illegal to harass or retaliate against an individual who has made a claim of unlawful harassment.

Name-calling, telling dirty jokes, making physical threats, or posting offensive pictures are just some forms of workplace harassment. The perpetrator of the harassment can be any supervisor, coworker or even a non-employee, and the victim can be anyone in the workplace who is offended, not just the direct victim who is targeted.

Another form of unlawful harassment is referred to as quid pro quo sexual harassment.  This is the classic scenario where employment, or terms and conditions of employment, are conditioned on an employee’s acquiescence to demands for sexual favors.

Employers can protect themselves from harassment charges by taking preventive measures in the workplace.  Clearly communicate what is, and is not, acceptable conduct; provide an effective grievance process for victims; provide harassment training to managers and employees; and create a workplace environment that encourages the reporting of unacceptable behavior.  Without taking specific measures to discourage, halt or address workplace harassment, an employer can be financially liable for it.

Know your rights as an employee, and know your responsibilities as an employer. http://www.MaryMeeksLaw.com

Pregnancy Discrimination is Common, and it’s Illegal

Pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. [U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission]  Many women are routinely fired, demoted, harassed or forced out of their jobs when they become pregnant. This workplace discrimination continues despite the passage – way back in 1978 – of the PDA.  Pregnancy discrimination is illegal in the United States.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe   benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment. It is also unlawful to harass a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

The law requires employers to provide pregnant women with reasonable accommodations if needed – just as they provide reasonable accommodations to other temporarily disabled employees. Not all pregnant women require accommodations.  But those women who do strenuous or hazardous work, or who have physically taxing assignments or must stand for long periods of time, sometimes need simple modifications to continue their work without harming themselves or their pregnancies. The PDA demands that employers make reasonable accommodations to them.

Even in 2015 pregnancy discrimination continues. If you are an employee who has experienced workplace discrimination, or an employer who wants to make sure you don’t violate the law, please call and schedule a consultation.  www.MaryMeeksLaw.com

Federal, State & Local Laws Prohibit Employment Discrimination

For employees in Florida, there are laws in place at the federal, state, and some local levels that prohibit discrimination against employees based on certain protected categories.  These laws are not always uniform and can be confusing. The primary federal anti-discrimination law is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin (as well as retaliation for making complaints of discrimination).  The Americans with Disabilities Act and Age Discrimination in Employment Act are federal laws that provide similar protections to employees on the basis of age and disability.  The state anti-discrimination law in Florida is the Florida Civil Rights Act, which similarly prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap, and retaliation, but also includes marital status. “Sex” under these laws includes pregnancy, and includes sexual harassment.

In order to make a claim under these federal and state laws, employees must timely file complaints with the administrative agencies that were created to enforce these laws, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Human Relations Commission, before they have the right to file a lawsuit in Court.  Generally, complaints in Florida are “co-filed” with both agencies.  In that case, employees have 300 days from the date of the discriminatory act to file their complaint.  Although neither the federal or state anti-discrimination laws explicitly cover sexual orientation or gender identity, the EEOC has interpreted Title VII to cover these categories, and accepts and investigates claims made on these bases.

Some local municipalities in Florida have passed their own anti-discrimination laws, commonly referred to as Human Rights Ordinances.  Such HROs currently exist in local jurisdictions that cover more than half of the population of the state of Florida, including in Orlando and Orange County and other Central Florida locales.  The specific content of these local HROs varies among jurisdictions.  However, some of their distinguishing features are that they typically explicitly cover sexual orientation and gender identity (and sometimes other additional categories such as marital status and familial status), and they often do not require filing first with an administrative agency before filing a lawsuit.  www.MaryMeeksLaw.com


What’s The Difference Between Employment Law and Labor Law?

My firm, Mary Meeks, P.A., concentrates its practice in employment and labor law – representing both employees and employers.  While the terms “labor law” and “employment law” are sometimes used interchangeably, these terms describe two areas of law that are both related to the employment arena, but are separate and distinct with regard to the types of issues that they cover.

Labor law deals generally with the rights of groups of employees that form labor unions and enter into collective bargaining agreements with their employer.  These employees’ rights are governed by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, and there are often disputes as to the interpretation and application of those contractual rights.  Florida is considered a “right to work” state, which means that employees may not be forced, nor forbidden, to join or financially support a union.

Employment law deals with the rights of individual employees and covers all legal issues relating to the employer-employee relationship.  These issues include disputes regarding hours, wages and other terms and conditions of employment, as well as issues relating to discrimination, harassment, bullying, whistleblower retaliation, and workplace violence.  Florida is considered an “at will” state, which means that employees are employed at the will of their employers (and thus can be fired for any reason) unless there is a contract or some applicable law that provides them with protection.

There are many complex laws and regulations that exist on the federal, state and local level that make up labor and employment law.  In forthcoming posts, I will explain these laws and will address some of the specific issues typical to these areas of law.  www.MaryMeeksLaw.com