Sex discrimination is an employment practice that is illegal under both Colorado and federal law. However, many people do not realize that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a type of sex discrimination. Because of this, sexual orientation discrimination is illegal in Colorado.
The two primary laws that protect employees from sexual orientation are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.) and Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act (Co. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-402). Title VII applies to federal and state governments and to private employers with 15 or more employees. Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act extends these protections to all private employers, regardless of their number of employees.
What is Sexual Orientation Discrimination?
Sexual orientation discrimination occurs when an employee or job applicant is treated unfavorably because of their sexual orientation. For example, sexual orientation occurs when an employee is harassed because they are:
- Bisexual; or
In addition, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee or job applicant because of the employer’s perception of their sexual orientation, even if that perception is incorrect.
Hostile Work Environment Claims
A hostile work environment claim is a type of sexual orientation discrimination claim that is based on harassment in the workplace. When there are harsh or repeated instances of harassment because of an employee’s sexual orientation, this behavior can create a hostile work environment for that employee.
Discriminatory behavior that can create a hostile work environment because of sexual orientation can include, but is not limited to:
- Telling jokes about a sexual orientation;
- Bringing offensive objects or pictures into the workplace;
- Using sexual slurs or name calling;
- Ridicule or mockery;
- Distributing material that negatively portrays lesbian, gay, or transgendered people;
- Requests for sexual favors; and
- Physical contact, such as touching, grabbing, or caressing.
The harassment can, and often does, occur even though the harasser is not the employer themselves. A hostile work environment can be created by the behavior of a supervisor, co-worker, client, or customer. In addition, the sex or sexual orientation of the harasser can be the same as the victim.
When is Behavior in the Workplace Sexual Harassment?
In order for behavior to amount to harassment, it must first be frequent or severe. Simple teasing, offhand comments, or minor isolated incidents generally do not amount to sexual orientation harassment. For example, one homophobic joke or slur in the workplace may be offensive, but is unlikely to constitute sexual orientation harassment. On the other hand, repeated homophobic jokes or slurs can, and often do, amount to sexual orientation harassment.
Contact a Colorado Hostile Work Environment Attorney
If you are being harassed at work because of your gender identity or sexual orientation, it is important that you contact an employment attorney as soon as possible. No employee should have to work in a hostile work environment where they are subject to sexual orientation harassment. The lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP have experience representing both victims of sexual orientation harassment and employers who are accused of harassment.
If you are a victim of sexual orientation harassment at your job, call HKM Employment Attorneys LLP at 303-991-3075 or contact us online for a private consultation.