Sexual-Orientation-Based Employment Discrimination: State and Federal Status

GAO-02-665R: Apr 19, 2002

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Three federal statutes make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age. However, these laws do not cover discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. GAO found that 13 states have laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. These laws vary, but they share many significant features. Maryland's statute is broad in scope, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public accommodations, housing, and employment. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2001 (1) exempts any religious organization from coverage regardless of employment activity; (2) contains for the first time a definition of "employee;" and (3) provides that a state's receipt of federal assistance for any state program or activity constitutes a waiver of sovereign immunity to a suit brought in federal court alleging discrimination in employment of that program or activity.

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