Prizm News / August 5, 2019 / By Alana Jochum, Esq.

Ohio lacks employment protections for LGBTQ+ people, but what does that really mean?

Many people cannot believe that LGBTQ people are not yet included in Ohio’s laws that protect against discrimination in employment, housing, and public services. After all, it’s 2019. People can marry the person they love, yet they risk being fired or denied housing or services for doing so.

At Equality Ohio, we hear stories from people who have chosen not to marry their partner of many years because they are afraid it will only further “out” them to an employer that is not supportive of LGBTQ people, which then puts their job and income at risk.

Sometimes we’re asked, “So what? What’s the big deal that ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity or expression’ are not explicitly protected under state law?” 

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It means that LGBTQ Ohioans have to pick and choose where they are “out” and hide themselves in some settings, such as a workplace. It means that whether a person is safe in their job right now depends on a host of factors, including where they live, their employer, or the type of discrimination they experience. 

To explain, let’s pretend that Tamara is a lesbian woman married to her wife, Shayna. Tamara has been fired by her employer because she talked about the fact that she and her wife attended Pride together in Portsmouth, Ohio.

If we pass the Ohio Fairness Act (SB11), Tamara would be explicitly protected under state law based on her “sexual orientation” or “gender identity or expression.” She could simply file a complaint about being fired for being married to a woman with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC), or she could file an employment discrimination lawsuit in court. 

It’s also more likely that her employer would already know in advance that they must treat LGBTQ people equally under the law and would seek to comply with that law, avoiding this situation in the first place.

Photos by Staley Munroe

Without statewide nondiscrimination protections, here’s what Tamara has to ask to determine if she’s protected:

Does her company have an internal nondiscrimination policy to protect LGBTQ people? 

  • Yes → Great. She can use the policy to advocate that she should not be fired, preferably with the guidance of an attorney, as these policies can be tricky to navigate.
  • No → Not protected. Keep going.

Does she work for the State of Ohio? 

  • Yes → Excellent. Governor DeWine extended employment protections to LGBTQ people (based on both “sexual orientation” and“gender identity or expression”) in state employment upon taking office. The state government has an internal process for hearing claims of discrimination.
  • No→ Not protected. Keep going.

Does she work in one of 26 localities with local nondiscrimination ordinances?

  • Yes → Good. There are 25 municipalities and one county that offer fully inclusive LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections (all detailed on our Equality Ohio’s Municipal Map online). Tamara also must work in a city or county with these protections in place to file an employment discrimination complaint. Sadly, people can lose their civil rights on their daily commute in Ohio.
  • No → Not protected. Keep going.

Does she work for a company with more than 15 employees?

  • Yes → Encouraging. She may be able to access procedures offered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which currently interprets “sex” discrimination to include being fired for being LGBTQ. Tamara could fill out an Intake Form at Equality Ohio’s Legal Clinic online to see if one of our attorneys can assist in this process. 
  • No → Not protected. Keep going. 

Tamara is running out of options. Is there anything left she can do?

  • Yes → Ohio does not explicitly protect against discrimination based on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity or expression,” but the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (OCRC) sometimes can hear cases where the discrimination fits certain fact patterns (a “sex stereotyping” theory). Tamara could fill out an Intake Form at Equality Ohio’s Legal Clinic online to see if she could consider this route. 

All of this would be simplified if “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” were added explicitly to Ohio’s nondiscrimination laws. You can help make this a reality! Visit Equality Ohio’s Action Center to engage with your legislators in multiple ways and show them that it’s time that the Ohio Fairness Act became law.

And are you navigating a situation like Tamara’s? Please don’t feel you have to do so alone. Visit Equality Ohio’s Legal Clinic and complete our online intake form or call us at 1-855-LGBT-LAW to see if we can help or connect you with another attorney who can help.

Alana Jochum is an attorney and the Executive Director of Equality Ohio, a statewide LGBTQ equality organization that envisions an Ohio where everyone feels at home.