As of this writing, no protections exist in South Carolina law that ensure the LGBT community has a right to be free of discrimination in the workplace. However, state law is not the only avenue by which someone may seek redress if they are discriminated against. There are some specific situations where someone’s LGBT status can be used as an axis on which to show discrimination occurred. It is pivotal to know your rights.
Start Small: Employer Regulations
Very often, even in a historically conservative area like South Carolina, employers have chosen to adopt internal rules and regulations that prohibit discrimination on a wider scope than state or federal regulations may do. For example, data for 2014 shows that 8 of South Carolina’s 10 largest employers chose to voluntarily adopt further-reaching anti-discrimination policies than state or federal law would require them to do. If you work for a company that has one of these zero-tolerance policies in place, you have a greater chance of being able to work out any alleged harassment or discrimination issues via your HR department or your superior than you would at another company.
If you work for a public agency or governmental entity, you may be covered under the federal government’s internal policies, which urge equal opportunity and anti-discrimination commitments, complete with guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). If this is so, your rights will be set out in your employee handbook. While you may not be able to mount any kind of action for damages, your unfair treatment will be addressed, which may not happen with some private employers.
Local and Federal Government Laws Regarding LGBT Discrimination
Merely because the state of South Carolina does not include sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination laws does not preclude the other tiers of government from doing so. Multiple local governments have adopted LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination policies, including the cities of Charleston and Columbia, as well as Richland County and Charleston County (though the latter only covers sexual orientation, while the others also include gender identity). Government workers in these areas are protected from discrimination, and many businesses in these areas have taken cues from government and adopted inclusive policies.
The federal EEOC, of course, does have guidance for LGBT workers. It is the policy of the EEOC, as of this writing, to interpret Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination as applying to sexual orientation and gender identity, “regardless of any contrary state or local laws.” Because comparatively few jurisdictions enforce anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. However, the EEOC does receive quite a few complaints and requests for investigation. The most recent available data shows approximately 1,500 complaints in FY 2015 alone, which is approximately a 30 percent increase from the previous year. Because of this volume, it can be difficult to get your case heard within the time frame that may be necessary.
Ask A Knowledgeable Attorney
LGBT South Carolinians may sometimes feel exposed or vulnerable, wondering if the slightest misstep may cost them at work. It can be empowering and calming to be made aware of your rights. If you have questions, discussing your situation with an attorney can help. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston employment discrimination law firm are happy to work with you to explore your situation to its fullest.
Contact us today to set up a consultation.