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What is Sexual Orientation Harassment?

Despite the recent legal changes that recognizes same-sex marriages, people can still be fired in Kentucky for being gay. And if they are harassed at work for being gay (it’s called sexual orientation harassment, there’s nothing that can legally be done.

According to the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, the only categories that are protected are those of age, gender, race, disability, nation of origin, religion, and sexual harassment.

Stressed - Mike HoffLet’s say an employer pulls an employee from his or her workstation, announces their sexual orientation, and then fires that employee for being gay. An employee may be able to file a suit for infliction of emotional distress, but as the law stands, the firing is legal.

However, we’re beginning to see more cases that can cross over into sexual harassment complaints. Sexual harassment lawsuits can be filed regardless of the genders involved. The Supreme Court Case, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, said male-on-male sexual harassment is just as illegal as any other form of sexual harassment. In Oncale, the plaintiff was a male who said his male coworkers often harassed and abused him, which the Supreme Court decided was clearly sexual harassment. The case is often used as support for sexual orientation harassment cases.

Will Sexual Orientation Harassment Eventually Become Illegal?

Yes, I believe it will become illegal. While it may not be illegal currently, the social landscape is changing dramatically. We’ve already seen same-sex marriage bans ruled illegal in several states, including Kentucky. And there have been federal bills that have been drafted that make sexual orientation harassment illegal, although that doesn’t make it a law. However, I think we’ll see it become the eighth protected category in the workplace.

Is Sexual Orientation Harassment Still Worth Talking to a Lawyer About?

Absolutely. While someone who is being harassed at work may not be able to sue because of his or her orientation, if there are certain words spoken about or to that person, or certain actions that take place, he or she may be able to file for sexual harassment. If co-workers or supervisors have used certain language or taken certain actions, there’s a better chance of having some sort of legal recourse. If you’re not sure, it’s always better to call an attorney and find out for sure.

If you’re experiencing sexual harassment or sexual orientation harassment at work, and feel a legal response is your only option, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100 to see what you can do.

Photo credit: Mike Hoff (Flickr, Creative Commons)