New data from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has revealed that there was a 28% increase in discrimination complaints from LGBT employees.
There was also a 51% increase in monetary awards for such cases – rising to a total of $3.3million.
The news was reported by Bloomberg, which said that the increase was partly due to more people talking about their sexuality and coming out at work – spurned on by such legal developments as the US Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage last summer.
‘More and more people are willing to talk about the issues,’ Jenny Yang, chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told Bloomberg’s New York office. ‘The national dialogue has really shifted.’
The willingness for people to come forward may also have been spurned on by a landmark ruling taken by the EEOC last July that said that discrimination against gay people could be considered as a form of sex discrimination, which therefore meant it was already illegal across the US.
The EEOC handled 90,000 discrimination complaints last year, with the majority of these being related to race, sex and disability. LGBT-related incidents counted for 1,412 of those complaints; still a comparatively small number but one which is rising.
Of that number, the EEOC says that 1,181 were related to sexual orientation and 271 were gender-identity/transgender related. Of the, 1,412 complaints, there were 1,135 resolutions, with settlements in 96 cases.
The EEOC prefers to settle the vast majority of disputes through mediation. However, when mediation fails, or where discrimination may be perceived to have been blatant and intentional, court remains an option.
Last month, following last summer’s ruling, the EEOC announced that it had filed lawsuits against two companies for discriminating against gay employees In both cases, the employees concerned had experienced verbal harassment and name-calling because of their sexuality.
In January, the EEOC helped a trans woman secure $115,000 in compensation and an apology from her former employers after they denied her access to the women’s restroom at work.
Yang said that besides mediation and court action, the EEOC was working on developing training to minimize bullying or discriminatory behavior – including persuading bystanders to not speak out when they witness such behavior.
‘We want to make it not acceptable, not cool. That way you can defuse the problem before it rises to an actionable level.’
Robin Maril, senior legislative counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, told Gay Star News, ‘Although increased visibility may lead to a rise in incidents of discrimination, it’s important to note that these numbers also reflect an increase in the willingness to report such discrimination.
‘LGBT people have experienced harassment, intimidation, and discrimination at work for decades, with little hope of recourse.
‘However, more and more people are living in cities and states that offer workplace protections.
‘We are hopeful that people who experience discrimination because of who they are will feel safe enough, and have access to the resources, to file complaints. Discrimination is nothing new, but these workers’ right to stop it is.’
American Civil Liberties Union Staff Attorney Ria Tabacco Mar told Gay Star News: ‘Anyone who is facing workplace discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity can file with the EEOC, which is vigorously enforcing our nation’s antidiscrimination laws on behalf of LGBT people.’