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Can You Be Fired For Being Gay?

A poll taken in 2011 showed that 90 percent of Americans mistakenly believed Congress had already passed a law granting protections against anti-gay discrimination.

But in 29 states, including Texas, you can get fired for being gay. This is because there is currently no federal, state or local law in place protecting members of the LGBT community from employment discrimination in Houston.

But the law in Houston may soon change.

Anti-Gay Employment Discrimination

In the context of at-will employment, employees without a written contract can be fired with or without cause, as long as the reason is not illegal.

Unlawful employment discrimination encompasses a wide variety of protected characteristics, including: race, national origin, gender, age, disability, and religion. But federal laws do not currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the private sector (only federal employees and job applicants are protected).

On the state level, Houston is the only major city in Texas that does not currently offer comprehensive citywide LGBT protections, according to Lone Star Q.

In cities like Houston, the only way to receive such protection in the private sector is if your workplace specifically includes sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy. Another option is to base a claim under a completely separate legal theory (such as breach of contract or harassment).

Proposed Legislation

Legislation is in the works both on the federal and state level to better protect workers from sexual orientation discrimination.

On the federal level, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is proposed legislation that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Much like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, ENDA would prevent private employers with 15 or more employees from turning away applicants or firing employees for being gay or transgender. But it would contain religious employer exemptions.

Similar legislation is being proposed on the local level. For example, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, called for a comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination law in Houston.

To pass a city-wide ordinance, the council would need voter approval. Because of the city's charter amendment, an LGBT ordinance similar to the ones enacted in other cities -- including Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin or the one recently passed in San Antonio, the second-largest city in Texas -- would have to go through a referendum.

To determine the state of the law in your locale, you may want to consult a Houston employment law attorney.

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