sexual orientation laws: discrimination in housing and employment

Federal Laws
  • None protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • Title VII protection from "sex" discrimination does not include "sexual orientation," but does protect against same-sex sexual harassment.
  • Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is in the pipeline, but unlikely to become law anytime soon.
California Laws
Two primary laws:

  1. Unruh Civil Rights Act (Cal. Civ. Code �51)
  2. Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Cal. Gov. Code �12900)
Both are enforced by the State of California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (
  1. Unruh Civil Rights Act

  • Prohibits discrimination in providing "accommodations" by all "business establishments" in California because of actual or perceived sexual orientation (among other things).
  • Sexual orientation includes heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality, but not gender-based discrimination.
  • Includes housing, public accommodations, hotels, restaurants, theatres, hospitals, public agencies, and stores open to the public.
  • Does not include a person renting out a room in their house, because that is not a "business establishment."
  • Does not include the Boy Scouts, because they also aren�t a "business establishment."
  • Plaintiffs can file with DFEH or directly sue in court.
  • Damages: Out-of-pocket expenses, cease and desist orders, emotional distress, attorney�s fees.
     2.   Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
Prohibits discrimination or harassment in employment or housing because of actual or perceived sexual orientation.
"Sexual orientation" includes heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality. Gender-based bill is in legislature.
A. Employment
  • Only applies to businesses which regularly employ 5 or more persons. Does not apply to religious organizations.
  • Prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment including hiring, termination and terms and conditions.
  • Prohibits harassment of employees or applicants.
  • Damages: Hiring, back pay, promotion, reinstatement, cease and desist orders, emotional distress, attorneys fees, punitive damages.
  • Process: File a DFEH complaint within one year from date of discrimination. To sue directly in court, DFEH must issue a "right-to-sue" after a complaint is filed with DFEH.
B. Housing
  • Prohibits discrimination and harassment in all aspects of housing including sales and rentals, evictions, terms and conditions, mortgage loans and insurance.
  • Examples:

  • Denying or refusing to rent or sell housing
  • Treating applicants for housing differently
  • Giving residents different terms and conditions
  • Advertising a discriminatory housing preference or limitation
  • Providing false information about the availability of housing
  • Harassing, coercing or intimidating people from enjoying or exercising their rights under this Act
  • Imposing different terms for loans for purchasing, constructing, improving, repairing or maintaining a home
  • Denying real estate services (e.g. brokers� organizations, multiple listing services)

  • Excludes religious organizations.
  • Excludes owner-occupied housing where owner is renting out one room, but this exclusion does not include apply to discriminatory ads (i.e. "Room for rent to a straight person" is illegal. So is "Room for rent to a gay person.")
  • Process: File a DFEH complaint within one year from date of discrimination. Or file directly in court within two years of discrimination.
  • Same damages as employment.
This information is accurate as of September, 2001.

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