New UMass Amherst Center for Employment Equity Report Explores EEOC Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination Charges

Researchers find that the commission provides a needed extension of coverage to those whose states do not currently offer anti-discrimination laws
M.V. Lee Badgett
M.V. Lee Badgett

AMHERST, Mass. – New research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Employment Equity (CEE) finds that a 2013 extension of anti-discrimination coverage for sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has greatly expanded protections for LGBT people, especially for residents of the 28 U.S. states that do not have SOGI anti-discrimination laws.

In their report, “Evidence From the Frontlines on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination,” co-authors M.V. Lee Badgett, Amanda Baumle and Steven Boutcher examined data from more than 9,100 SOGI discrimination charges filed with the EEOC or a state agency between 2013-16. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently ban all SOGI discrimination, and one state—Wisconsin—bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. Twenty-four of the other states have at least one city or county that offer some form of protection, but for residents without these local and state-based protections, the EEOC provides the only available recourse for those facing SOGI discrimination.

“We find the biggest increase in charges filed over time are in states without a SOGI nondiscrimination law, since LGBT people had no way to challenge potential discrimination before 2013,” states Badgett, a professor of economics and public policy at UMass Amherst. “Surprisingly, we also see an increase in charges filed in states with SOGI protections, possibly because the EEOC policy makes it safer or more visible as an option.”

The researchers also found that the rate of filing in states without SOGI protection is about 23 percent lower than in the states with SOGI protections, which suggests that SOGI discrimination is underreported in the states without protections.

“We think that the lower rates in those states would rise with a clearer policy commitment, such as a federal or state law, that would increase the visibility of the right to file a discrimination and security for charging parties,” concludes Boutcher, a senior research fellow for the UMass Amherst Institute for Social Science Research.

Charges were filed by people across the range of demographic categories, but one notable difference was that 43 percent of charging parties were African-American, who account for just 12 percent of the U.S. labor force. A disproportionate number of sexual orientation discrimination charges were filed by men and by black individuals, but for gender identity charges a disproportionate number were filed by women and white individuals.

“These patterns might reflect less accepting attitudes toward gay men than toward lesbians. Another real possibility is that characteristics like race, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity combine to put some people more at risk of discrimination,” notes Baumle, professor and chair of the sociology department at the University of Houston.

The full report, interactive data visualizations and more information about the Center for Employment Equity, including access to EEOC data and reports, can be found here.