Gay rights = straight rights

Gay rights = straight rights

The Supreme Court announced this week it will hear two cases on whether federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The media covered the story as being about gay rights, and it is. But it also is about the rights of straight people not to be discriminated against because they are heterosexual. Coincidentally, this week also brought a case where a court allowed a straight woman to be discriminated against.

In O’Daniel v. Industrial Service Solutions, Bonnie O’Daniel alleged she was discriminated against for being heterosexual. She was fired after she wrote a Facebook post complaining about a man wearing a dress in Target using a women’s restroom or dressing room alongside her young daughters. One of the co-owners of the company O’Daniel worked for is part of the LGBT community, and took offense at the post.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and O’Daniel lost her case.

(Even if sexual orientation discrimination is illegal, it might not have protected O’Daniel. Arguably, she was not fired for her sexual orientation, but for making rude comments that could create a hostile working environment for her co-workers.)

If SCOTUS rules that sexual orientation discrimination is illegal, both straights and gays will be protected.

No matter how the Supreme Court rules, gay and straight employees in states that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination—including California and Hawaii—are still protected by law.

By R. Makana Risser Chai

Makana Risser Chai is a trainer, HR consultant and former Silicon Valley attorney who specializes in teaching courses on creating respectful workplaces by preventing harassment, bullying, disrespect, and unconscious bias.