During the pandemic, our SafeSpace Anti-Violence Program has seen a rise in the reports of employment discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ Vermonters. Among other examples, this discrimination can look like: being fired for “poor performance” days after coming out to an employer or being persistently misgendered by coworkers. Experiencing workplace discrimination can feel paralyzing, isolating, and extremely harmful, and you are not alone. Our SafeSpace advocates are here to support LGBTQ+ Vermonters who are experiencing or have experienced any type of discrimination or harm.
It’s important to note that this blog post predominately breaks down reporting processes when experiencing discrimination as dictated by federal or state law. However, we know that legal discrimination and discriminatory actions may not be the same thing. What we mean is this: you might experience harm (as people with marginalized identities, we often feel these moments in our bodies; it often shows up as “ouch, that didn’t feel good” even if we can’t articulate it). This harm might not be illegal though. That does not make your feelings any less valid. At the SafeSpace Anti-Violence Program, we believe you. If the workplace discrimination you experience does not qualify as such under the law, our SafeSpace advocates are here to brainstorm alternative forms of healing, closure, and support.
How do you know if the harm you experience qualifies as discrimination under the law? You have legal rights both in the state of Vermont and federally. Let’s take a closer look at these rights:
Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act
In Vermont, there are legal protections which prohibit any employer, employment agency, or labor organization from discriminating against individuals on the basis of gender and/or sexual identity. The “Fair Employment Practices Act” states that it is unlawful: “(1) for any employer, employment agency, or labor organization to discriminate against any individual because of […] sex, sexual orientation, gender identity […] ” (21 V.S.A §495). Vermont legislation is explicit in how it defines these terms. According to several statutes, “The law defines gender identity as “an individual’s actual or perceived gender identity, or gender-related characteristics intrinsically related to an individual’s gender or gender-identity, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth” (1 V.S.A § 144) and the “term “sexual orientation” means female or male homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality” (1 V.S.A §143). These protections apply to employees, interns, volunteers, and contractors.
However, there are some exceptions. For example, religious organizations are exempt to the extent that they are permitted to give “preference to persons of the same religion or denomination” (21 V.S.A § 495(e)). This does not give these organizations the right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, though. For more information about exceptions, read this resource created by GLAD.
So, in short, an employer in Vermont cannot explicitly discriminate against someone on the basis of gender and/or sexual identity. That said, there are many ways in which “legal” discrimination can occur. If you have or are experiencing discrimination that is not covered by the Vermont law, that does not mean you haven’t experiencing harm! You might not be able to file a report against your employer, but our SafeSpace advocates are here to brainstorm alternative forms of support.
Federal Employment Anti-Discrimination Law aka Title VII
Although less extensive than Vermont state protections, there are also federal protections for LGBTQ+ in regards to discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (aka Title Seven) states that “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer –
(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to [their] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s […] sex […] or
(2) to limit, segregate, or classify [their] employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect [their] status as an employee, because of such individual’s […] sex […]” (Title VII).
In the past year, the Supreme Court ruled that “sex” applies to discrimination on the basis of sexual and gender identity.
Reporting Employment Discrimination in Vermont
Now that we’ve broken down what unlawful discrimination looks like in Vermont, let’s explore how to file a discrimination complaint against your employer. There are different reports to file if you work/volunteer/intern for the government versus a non-government organization.
Reporting Employment Discrimination – Government Agencies
If you are filing a complaint against a government agency (this includes state employment as well as Public Accommodations or Housing), you can file a complaint to the Vermont Human Rights Commission. Your complaint can be filed under oath in person, in writing, or by email. You can also submit an online complaint here (Note: This form was created by the Civil Rights Unit (CRU) in the Attorney General’s Office. If your complaint pertains to state employment, your intake will be received by CRU and forward to the Vermont Human Rights Commission). You are welcome to reach out to the HRC with any questions: (802) 828-2480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporting Employment Discrimination – General Employment (Non-State Employment)
If you have been discriminated against by a private business or town, for example, you can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office. The same online form as a government employer is used to file a complaint. That form can be found here. You are welcome to reach out the Civil Rights Unit with any questions: (802) 828-3657 or email@example.com.
If you need support in this process, our SafeSpace advocates are here to help Mon – Thurs 10 am – 6 pm and Fri 10 am – 2 pm via our support line: (802) 863-0003, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or end-to-end encrypted chat line.