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LGBTQ Discrimination in the Workplace

June marks Pride Month, an occasion for members of the LGBTQ community to celebrate their identities – and the rights and recognition they were denied in decades past. But even as festivities take place around the globe, workplace discrimination against the LGBTQ community continues to make headlines at home.

In 2017, the Trump administration asserted employment discrimination protections don’t extend to gay and transgender individuals, reversing prior Department of Justice policy. Simultaneously, several lawsuits alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are winding their way through the federal court system with mixed results thus far. Certainly, these legal disputes will continue to play out on the national stage. In the meantime, are LGBTQ people seeking recourse for the harassment or discrimination they’ve experienced at work?

To explore this question, we studied statistics from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, analyzing complaints related to gender identity and sexual orientation in recent years. Our findings reveal patterns in employee activism and how often they actually succeed in obtaining compensation. To see how LGBTQ people are standing up against harassment and discrimination, keep reading.

Encounters With Intolerance

First, we explored the geographical pattern of EEOC charges citing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Our findings indicate stark regional differences, with a heavy concentration among the Southern states. Georgia and Mississippi neared the top of the list, with roughly four charges per 100,000 residents. These figures resonate with these states’ respective policy records on LGBTQ issues. As experts have noted, these states lag far behind the rest of the country in terms of legal protections for gay and transgender residents.

Interestingly, Washington, D.C., had the most complaints per capita related to sexual orientation and gender identity, despite a long history of activism by LGBTQ residents of the nation’s capital. Conversely, some states had very few charges of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 2017 – if they had any at all. Montana and Rhode Island present a particularly interesting example: Although legal scholars have recently criticized the state’s lack of nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, it had no charges filed in 2017.

Protesting Prejudice

From 2014 to 2017, charges of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation were far more common than those alleging gender identity bias. That finding could simply reflect the relative size of each community, however. While estimates of the transgender population vary, a greater number of people identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. In a small portion of cases – roughly 3 percent  – complainants alleged both forms of prejudice simultaneously.

Cumulatively, LGBTQ-related complaints increased substantially between 2014 and 2015 and again between 2015 and 2016. In 2017, however, complaints declined slightly from the year before. That statistic provides an interesting counternarrative to research suggesting a surge in anti-LGBTQ sentiment among people in 2017. But this decline could also be attributable to hesitation on the part of the LGBTQ community to file complaints with the EEOC, given the uncertainty of protections under the Trump administration.  

Investigation Outcomes

Between 2013 and 2017, the outcomes of LGBTQ-related charges remained relatively consistent. The percentage dismissed without reasonable cause inclined slightly from 64 to 68 percent, but administrative closures declined gradually over the same period. In each year, between 15 and 17 percent of complaints ended in merit resolutions.

In terms of compensation, however, a significant change was evident in just a few years. Whereas monetary benefits resulting from these complaints amounted to less than $1 million in 2013, they totaled more than $5 million in 2017. That doesn’t mean individual awards grew each year, however. In fact, the average award in 2017 was just $15,600 – lower than in 2013. 

Equality: A Work in Progress

Our data suggest hundreds of thousands of people encounter workplace discrimination each year on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. But as the country celebrates Pride Month, we should note the significance of these EEOC complaints might not be entirely tragic. Although discrimination is clearly unacceptable in any professional setting, the sheer volume of these charges may indicate empowerment. Rather than suffering in silence, LGBTQ citizens are making use of a valuable resource to assert their rights. Although discrimination remains an unfortunate part of America’s employment landscape, we should celebrate those with the courage to combat it – this month, and always.

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We collected data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for enforcement and litigation statistics made on the basis of sexuality (LGBTQ). Data were accessed on Feb. 20, 2018.

LGBTQ-based charge receipts reflect data from 2014 to 2017. The data do not include charges filed with state or local Fair Employment Practices Agencies.

The number for total charges reflects the number of individual charge filings.

For data related to outcomes of LGBTQ-based discrimination charges, merit resolutions include negotiated settlements, withdrawals with benefits, successful conciliations, and unsuccessful conciliations. LGBTQ-based discrimination outcomes during the 2013 fiscal year are for the last three quarters only. The EEOC began tracking information on charges filed alleging discrimination related to sexual orientation for charges received on or after Jan. 1, 2013.

No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is purely exploratory.

Fair Use Statement

If you’d like to help us spread the word on the prevalence of workplace discrimination, feel free to use and share our content for noncommercial purposes. If you do, please include a link to this page to attribute us appropriately and let your readers explore this project in its entirety.

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