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