Can Gay Workers in Oklahoma Sue for Workplace Discrimination?

Can a gay or lesbian Oklahoman bring an employment discrimination lawsuit if that worker believes he or she has experienced workplace discrimination because of one’s sexual orientation?

The short answer is yes, absolutely.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is protected under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. Some people may have thought that high court ruling was the last word on discrimination based on sexual orientation. That is hardly the case.

Actually, there is no federal law and no Oklahoma state law that explicitly forbids unfair treatment in the workplace based on sexual orientation.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual citizens report that the most common discrimination they experience is at work. Lamba Legal, a national legal advocacy organization for gay and lesbian rights, reports that employment is the No. 1 category of issues brought up by people who call its legal helpline.

What About the Civil Rights Act?

A ruling last week by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is being hailed by gay rights advocates as a big step toward workplace equality. The ruling provides a new interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (gender), or national origin in workplaces, stores, schools and other public establishments. Sexual orientation is not explicitly mentioned by the act.

However, the EEOC ruled that the landmark 1964 law does prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The agency reasoned that such discrimination is a form of gender bias, because it discriminates against a worker for behaviors or lifestyle decisions that would be treated differently if the worker were of the opposite gender. The federal law applies to companies with 15 or more employees.

The EEOC is part of the executive branch; its decision is not legally binding over civil litigation. However, a lawsuit based on the same logic that led to the EEOC decision is likely to prevail. Two earlier Supreme Court rulings, as well as several other federal court rulings, lean in the direction of prohibiting workplace discrimination against gays.

Some Protections Already Exist

Although no federal law explicitly prohibits workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals, several other protections are in place.

At the federal level, an executive order issued by President Obama prohibits such discrimination in all federal workplaces, as well as by all federal contractors.

At the state level, 20 of the 50 states prohibit employment discrimination against gays. Those states are mostly in New England, the West and the Southwest. Many states, including Oklahoma and Texas, have no such state laws.

Many gay and lesbian workers are also protected by their employer’s policies. Most national and international corporations forbid LGB discrimination, not only because of their corporate values, but because they do business with the federal government and/or in the 20 states that forbid such discrimination and/or in other countries that forbid such discrimination.

According to multiple sources, about 90% of Fortune 500 companies and two-thirds of Fortune 1000 companies have policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. In Oklahoma, Devon Energy, ONEOK, Williams Companies, and OGE Energy are among the many corporations that have such policies.

Civil Lawsuit in Oklahoma?

Despite these protections, an eight-page 2011 study by the Williams Institute, a think tank of UCLA Law School, titled Employment Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Oklahoma, reported that:

“Large percentages of LGBT people [in Oklahoma] report discrimination and harassment in the workplace.”

That conclusion was based not only on various surveys of LGBT Oklahomans, but also on an analysis of Census Bureau data that reveal that Oklahoma men in same-sex couples earn 26% less than Oklahoma married men.

Do You Have an Employment Discrimination Complaint?

A civil action for workplace discrimination can be based on many complaints, including: discrimination in hiring, compensation and/or promotions, wrongful termination, infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy and defamation.

Employment discrimination affecting GLB workers includes:

  • Not being hired because of one’s sexual orientation
  • Being fired because one’s orientation is discovered
  • Being paid less than other employees who do the same work
  • Being overlooked for promotions.

Such a civil action is much more likely to result in compensation for harms and losses as a result of last week’s EEOC ruling as well as last month’s Supreme Court same-sex marriage ecision.

For more information about employment discrimination, see our webpage on Employment Law. If you are the victim of unfair treatment in the workplace due to your sexual orientation or any other prohibited reason, contact our law office for a free consultation. If we believe you have a good claim, we will accept your case on a contingency basis, which means you pay us only if your case is successful in court. Contact Hasbrook & Hasbrook by telephone (866-416-4737), email (cth@hasbrooklaw.com) or use our website contact form: Contact Us.