I am a lesbian and have been out at work my entire career. I was recently fired after being employed for more than seven years at a small financial company in New York.
A new manager had transferred to my department and made my work environment unbearable. No one liked her. She would often act inappropriately—for example, she yelled at employees in front of co-workers, refused requests for vacation time and behaved erratically.
When I stood up to her, she took it as a sign of insubordination and began a process that ultimately led to my termination. She claimed it was for cause, but I disagree. What are my rights? Can I sue?
This manager sounds like a horrible supervisor and not someone your former firm should have working for it.
Based on what your recount of events, however, it doesn’t seem like your mistreatment or termination was based on your gender, sexual orientation or any other protected class under New York City or New York State Human Rights Law, or Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Incidentally, the latter protects workers against discrimination based on gender, among other factors, but unfortunately does not include sexual orientation.) You would be hard pressed to successfully sue her or the company.
New York State is a hire-at-will state, meaning that, while you cannot be fired based on a protected class like gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation, you can be fired for just about anything else.
Discriminatory animus is not often clear cut. In this situation it sounds like the manager mistreated you equally with your co-workers. Your “crime” was not related to being a lesbian, but rather sticking up to her inappropriate behavior.
I am assuming, because you worked at a small financial firm, that you were not part of a union. One of the many reasons unions play a vital role in our country’s workplaces is because they offer collective bargaining agreements that create additional rights for workers. If you worked under a collective bargaining agreement, you might have additional rights than just those state and local laws provide. If you are not a member of a union, you might want to negotiate a severance package with the help of an attorney.
Email questions to to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-253-6911.
*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.