May 15, 2019 Category: LGBT Discrimination
Beginning in the fall of 2012, the Sultana High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance club was removed from the school’s student handbook. When club members asked to hold events at the school, the administration refused those requests. Fliers advertising club meetings were scrubbed and censored.
Julia Frost, then a teacher at the school, contacted the ACLU and began a conversation about LGBTQ discrimination at the school. The following spring, Frost was notified that her teaching contract would not be renewed for the following year.
Frost filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Hesperia Unified School District, claiming that the school retaliated against her because she was a lesbian. In the suit, she accused the school of having a “climate of hostility” toward LGBT students and faculty. She believed that she was terminated because of her sexual orientation and support for the Gay-Straight Alliance club, not because of her ability to do her job.
Nearly six years after the lawsuit was first filed, Frost and the District have agreed to settle the case privately. Frost will receive $850,000 in damages. The Hesperia School District has also agreed to establish LGBT-friendly policies and training programs for its teachers.
LGBT As a Protected Characteristic
Employers are prohibited from harassing or discriminating against employees on the basis of a protected characteristic. Under Federal anti-discrimination laws, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of:
States have the right to expand the scope of anti-discrimination and harassment protections. California boasts some of the most expansive discrimination protections in the country. In addition to those characteristics protected under federal law, California prohibits discrimination on the basis of:
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity and expression
- Political affiliations or activity
- Military affiliations or activity, and
- Medical conditions.
Frost may not have been protected against discrimination under federal law, but she was protected under California state law.
Employers Must Have a Legitimate Reason For Adverse Employment Actions
Just because anti-discrimination laws exist doesn’t mean that employers can never fire or demote an employee. However, employers must have a legitimate, non-discriminatory business-related reason for taking those actions. An employee must never suffer adverse employment actions because of discriminatory policies or practices.
Employers must be able to show that their business practices and policies are non-discriminatory. This means that the practice must be “necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the organization” and have an “overriding business purpose.” If an employer could adopt a different practice or policy with less of a discriminatory impact, it must do so.
In other words, employers have to be able to show that any actions and practices that may adversely affect employees are in place not to discriminate, but to achieve a business goal. Any discriminatory effect must be entirely incidental, unintentional, and unavoidable.
If an employer cannot express such a reason, an employee’s claim of unlawful discrimination is likely to be successful.
Victims of LGBT Harassment at Work Entitled to Damages
Employers cannot discriminate against an employee because of their sexual orientation. An employer who violates the state’s anti-discrimination laws can be ordered to (a) pay monetary damages and/or (b) fulfil equitable remedies.
Monetary damages can include compensation for back pay, lost benefits, health care, and other financial losses suffered by the employee.
When an equitable remedy is ordered, it means that an employer must perform in some way. For example, an employer can be required to rehire an employee or extend a deserved promotion. Alternatively, an employer can be required to refrain from engaging in harassing or discriminatory conduct in the future.