I’ve been covering labor issues for a long time but yesterday I realized how much I still have to learn about worker rights.
I wrote a story about a gay man who claims he was fired from the Library of Congress after his employer found out his was gay, and during the research of the story I came across a disturbing reality. If indeed they fired this guy because he was gay, he has little to no recourse to fight the action.
Why? Because sexual orientation is largely not a protected category in the workplace, either the government workplace or the private sector. I knew their rights were limited, but I didn’t realize how limited. The lawyer in the Library of Congress’ case said he’s going to fight the case based on religious discrimination, which is clearly covered under labor laws, but he’s not going to push the sexual orientation issue because it would get his client no remedy for the injustice he alleges.
Since the Library of Congress is part of the federal government I found this even more shocking because that would mean the government can basically discriminate against gay workers.
When I asked a spokeswoman at the library about the case, she offered this in a statement:
“Library of Congress employees, like all employees in the federal government, have protection against workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.”
Well folks, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not cover sexual orientation. It only “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”
When I got off the phone I called one of the top labor law firms that focuses on government workers, Tully Rinckey, to find out for sure what rights gay workers had. Alas, the news was grim for government and private sector employees. (more…)