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What is Governor Wolf’s Executive Order Protecting LGBTQ Employees?

October 30th, 2021
lgbtq employees

In June, Governor Wolf signed an executive order updating Pennsylvania’s workplace policies on sexual harassment. This order reinforces protections for members of the LGBTQ community, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes.

This executive order, however, applies only to commonwealth employees. Although there is an effort to get the Pennsylvania legislature to pass LGBTQ protections for all workplaces, for now, those protections are only for employees of the commonwealth.

If you have experienced discrimination in the hiring process or at work for a government agency, you may have legal options to hold them accountable for how they treated you. This is a complex and ever-changing area of the law, so seeking guidance from a trusted legal advisor is your best move.

Protected Classes

As mentioned, LGBTQ has now been added to the list of protected classes in Pennsylvania. But what does that mean?

First, here are the existing protected classes, to which LGBTQ has now been added in Pennsylvania:

  • Rage
  • Age
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Disability
  • Genetic information
  • Citizenship
  • Veteran status

Now it needs to be defined what it means to be a member of a protected class in the workplace. The simplest way to describe the protections you receive as a member of a protected class is to say that an employer may not make an employment decision based on your class.

Common Ways Protected Class Rights are Violated

Generally, courts will not interfere with business decisions. However, if those decisions are discriminatory, courts may get involved and act.

Job candidates. Employers must have policies in place that prevent discrimination during the hiring process. If an employer has a bias against LGBTQ individuals, for example, they cannot make a hiring decision based on that fact alone. In other words, if you apply for a job and an employer refuse to interview or hire you because they believe you to be a member of the LGBTQ community, that could be discriminatory, in violation of Governor Wolf’s executive order.

But proving this would be difficult. It is hard to know, for example, why you were not chosen for an interview. Many employers will not give you details about why you were not selected, so holding an employer accountable can prove challenging. However, if you think you have been discriminated against, it is worth speaking to a lawyer to discuss your legal options.

Promotions. When an employer decides to grant promotions, they must have a legitimate business reason for each promotion they give. That reason could be as simple as the employee has shown good work product and scored above average on reviews. It is important that employers have documented reasons for promotions.

If, however, a series of promotions go to people who are all white men, for example, that could be evidence of discrimination in the promotion process. If you have shown good work product and consistently scored well on reviews but have been passed over for a promotion, you would want to know why.

As with hiring practices, employers may not always tell you the reason you did not receive a promotion. However, if you have been passed over for a promotion and you think it may be because of your protected class status, it would be prudent to speak with a lawyer about your legal options.

Raises. Just like promotions, employers must have legitimate business reasons when giving raises. Usually raises happen one of two ways:

  • Annual cost-of-living increases for every employee
  • Annual increase based on achieving or exceeding target goals

It could be the case that employees receive both raises in one year, provided they hit their target goals. If you hit your goals but do not receive a raise, it could be a discriminatory practice by your employer if they did not provide you a raise because of your protected class status. To seek legal options, speak with an employment lawyer.

Termination. When deciding whether to terminate an employee, employers must ensure that their reason to terminate the employee has nothing to do with their protected class status. If you have been terminated and believe the reason to be your status as an LGBTQ member, you may have legal options.

Proving wrongful termination is challenging, but in some ways easier than some other legal discrimination issues. This is the case because employers must keep detailed records on your performance and what made them decide to terminate your employment. If those records are weak or even provide a discriminatory reason, you may have solid legal footing to counteract your wrongful termination.

What to Expect for Results

With all that said, now you may wonder just what to expect if you decide to file a discrimination lawsuit against your employer. As with any lawsuit, you are seeking to collect damages. If you have been terminated, you may seek to be reinstated. The specific damages that you and your legal team seek to obtain will depend on the details of your discrimination claim.

Money damages could include:

  • Back pay
  • Lost income from missed promotion or raise
  • Pension benefits
  • Health benefits
  • Bonus payments
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress

The above are called economic damages because they provide you with money to rectify the problems from your workplace discrimination. But you may also be able to get equitable remedies, such as reinstatement at your job. Other equitable remedies may include the following:

  • If you were not hired for a position, a court may require you to be hired.
  • If you were passed over for a promotion, a court may require that you receive the promotion, even if it was already given to someone else.
  • If you were demoted for a discriminatory reason, a court may require that you be placed back in your previous role and receive back pay if your salary was reduced.

Ultimately, you have many options available to you if you have been discriminated against at work. If your employer’s actions have been especially malicious, you may even be able to get punitive damages. These are special damages awarded only in extreme cases and are intended to punish the employer as opposed to other types of damages, which are intended to make you whole. Punitive damages can also act to deter other employers from committing the same types of discriminatory actions.

It is also important to note your protections while employed and filing a claim. Many employees shy away from filing a discrimination claim against their current employer for fear of retaliation. Although that fear is legitimate, it is against the law for your employer to retaliate against you for filing a claim.

If, for example, your employer terminated you upon learning that you have filed a discrimination claim, that would be additional evidence in your favor. Any employee who is retaliated against, including being terminated, may file a lawsuit against their employer. To help you navigate the legal complexities and ensure your rights are protected, you may want to speak with an employment lawyer who can guide you through the process.

Philadelphia Employment Discrimination Lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C., Make Sure Your Rights are Protected

Workplace rights are important, now more than ever. As more protections are rightfully introduced, you may see employers drag their feet and simply ignore some new protections available to you. If that happens, you need a trusted legal advocate fighting to help protect your rights. Speak with the Philadelphia employment discrimination lawyers at The Gold Law Firm P.C. today to learn your rights and how we may be able to help you protect them. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Cherry Hill, South Jersey.

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