Many people believe that with all of the strides made in recent years toward equal legal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, discriminating against LGBT people in the workplace is illegal. However, the laws across the country are far from consistent.

Now the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is working to change this. The EEOC has filed federal lawsuits against two companies on behalf of employees who say they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. The commission says that it decided to take these actions after attempts to settle the cases failed.

Where Does Sexual Orientation Fit in to Civil Rights?

These lawsuits are part of the EEOC's strategic plan to prioritize anti-LGBT discrimination nationally. More than half the states in the country prohibit discrimination against LGBT employees in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identification. Further, a number of companies have implemented such policies on their own. However, federal law does not prohibit discrimination by private companies against LGBT employees by private companies.

The lawsuits argue that the plaintiffs' civil rights were violated by their employers. Sexual orientation is not mentioned in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits employer discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics, including race, sex and religion. However, the EEOC is arguing in these legal actions that it should be considered discrimination based on sex.

Plaintiffs Experienced Harassment from Those in Authority

In a Pittsburgh case against a medical clinic, a gay man says that his boss repeatedly made negative comments about his sexuality and used anti-gay epithets. He says the clinic director took no action when he complained, so he eventually left his job.

In a Baltimore case, a female forklift operator says that her supervisor sexually harassed her, disparaged her for being a lesbian and said things like "I want to turn you back into a woman." When she complained about her boss's actions, she says she was fired.

Sadly, regardless of what state laws or even company policies are in place, harassment of and discrimination against people for their sexual orientation or identity is still part of many workplaces. When employees take the matter to those higher up in the company or even to human resources personnel, they can find themselves demoted or fired. Employment rights attorneys work to help LGBT people who are suffering from this kind of harassment in the workplace seek justice and compensation.