Ask Lambda Legal–The Office Holiday Party

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December 9, 2015
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Q. I am a lesbian who just started a new job on the management team at a new company. Invites have already started going out for the office holiday party, and it is expected that all members of the management attend and bring their families. The problem is, nobody knows I am married to a woman. I am afraid that us attending together could affect me negatively on the job. How can I protect myself?

A. Employment fairness has been a central part of our work for 42 years — and it is a priority we will continue to fight for.

My advice: Bring your wife to the party. But before you go, check out your employer’s personnel policies, employee manual and/or your union contract to learn about any contractual rights you may have, as well as any complaint procedures. Does your employer or state have a nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation?

No one should worry that their sexual orientation could cost them their job or affect their standing at work. Federal law makes clear that discrimination because of an employee’s gender is illegal. A landmark decision by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in July, citing some of Lambda Legal’s recent work, confirms that sexual orientation discrimination against an individual occurs because of that individual’s gender.  In your case, that means that if it’s fine for others to bring a wife to the party, it cannot be a problem that you did just because you’re a woman.   

In September, Lambda Legal argued on behalf of our client Kimberly Hively before the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals during which we cited the EEOC decision. Kimberly was an instructor at a community college in Indiana for 14 years, but the college denied her fulltime employment and promotions—and eventually terminated her employment—because she is a lesbian. We urged the Court to reverse a lower court ruling and allow Kimberly her day in court.  We also are representing a Georgia woman making similar arguments before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Importantly, Lambda Legal is continuing its advocacy for the Equality Act, a broad and explicit federal law prohibiting employment nondiscrimination, and securing protections in housing, credit, education and jury service. Passage of the Equality Act would write sexual orientation and gender identity explicitly into Title VII, which currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

It is our hope that our work increases public understanding of who LGBT people are and what a fair, inclusive workplace looks like. This makes our country a more just and accepting place for everyone.

If you feel you have been discriminated on the job because of your sexual orientation, feel free to contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at (866-542-8336) or visit www.lambdalegal.org/help.

For more information on your rights in the workplace, check out our Know Your Rights: LGBT Employees & Employees with HIV.