Employees are currently protected from harassment and discrimination based on sex. But whether that legal protection will extend to sexual orientation still remains to be seen. If some plaintiffs have their way, there wouldn't have to be new laws to enshrine this protection: gender discrimination would be outlawed based on existing laws banning sex discrimination.
How does that work?
Say an employee was gay, and revealed that he was married to another man, and then got fired. A female coworker could get married to a man that same day and the same workplace would not bat an eye. What's the difference between the man married to a man and a woman married to a man, insofar as it would have affected each employment at this hypothetical workplace? It's just the sex of the people married to men, and that's why some argue that gender discrimination is really just another form of sex discrimination. Both employees' sexual orientations favored men, but only the man got fired, not the woman. Therefore, at the base of what seems to be gender discrimination is actually sex discrimination, plaintiffs' lawyers claim. But will the courts agree?
Watching what happens
Everybody deserves to be treated fairly in the workplace. Unfortunately, that's not always what happens. The two cases moving through the courts now have the potential to serve as a road map for future similar cases, where employees believe themselves to have been discriminated against based on sexual orientation. In the meantime, if you believe you have faced or are facing discrimination in the workplace, speak to a lawyer about what's going on to get the perspective you need to choose the best course of action.