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Message # 746 Employment rights of gays

mp3 #746 Gay Employment Rights (mp3 file)

In California, private sexual activity between consenting adults was decriminalized in 1975. That change made it possible for gay males and lesbians to pursue other rights, in employment, privacy, freedom of speech, and freedom of association.

Under the California Government Code section 12920, 12940 and 18500, California prohibits discrimination in private and public employment based on sexual orientation. In addition to this, A.B. 205, The Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act, extends virtually all the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage in California to domestic partnerships, including employment fringe benefits given to opposite-sex spouses.

The law prohibits discrimination or different treatment in any aspect of employment, or in any opportunity for employment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Employers covered by this law include any person regularly employing five (5) or more persons, their agents, the State of California and any political subdivision of the state.

Employers not subject to this law include any non-profit religious organizations and small employers with four or less employees.

Anyone who experiences sexual orientation discrimination in employment has an administrative remedy provided by the state Labor Commissioner. This includes an exclusive administrative remedy, a 30-day statute of limitations, a prompt investigation, and a hearing within 90 days of the initial investigation.

Discrimination in employment is not necessarily limited to hiring, firing, and promotion. Increasingly, gay and lesbian workers are insisting on the right to equal pay, with special attention to the fringe benefits usually given to opposite-sex spouses.

In California, registered domestic partners are now entitled to the same legal treatment as spouses in most areas of state law. Under the California Insurance Equality Act (A.B. 2208), all health, auto, rental, disability, life, and all other insurance plans regulated by the California Department of Insurance are prohibited from treating registered domestic partners and heterosexual spouses differently. Therefore, all covered policies and plans must provide identical coverage to registered domestic partners and heterosexual spouses. For example, unless your employer is self-insured, if your employer provides health benefits to the heterosexual spouses of its employees, it will also have to provide the same coverage to the registered domestic partners of its employees. In addition, failure on the part of businesses or employers to provide equal benefits to domestic partners may constitute unlawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, sex, or marital status, depending on the circumstances.

Although registered domestic partners are entitled to most employment benefits awarded to spouses in the state of California, it is important to remember that this is a state law. The federal government does not recognize domestic partnerships and federal benefits are unavailable to same-sex couples and other unmarried partners. Domestic partners are not entitled to their partner’s Social Security benefits or any other federal benefits available to married couples and they cannot file either state or federal tax returns jointly. Also, a domestic partnership in California won’t be recognized in most other states. Only a change in federal law will allow California same-sex couples full equality under the law.

For more information visit the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force at located at, 1325 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Suite 600, Washington DC 20005 telephone number area code 202, 393-5177. Or visit the webpage for the National Center for Lesbian Rights at You can also contact the Lambda Legal at their Western Regional office at 3325 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1300, Los Angeles CA 90010, telephone number area-code, 213-382-7600 online at

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