94,700 LGBT Workers in Tennessee Lack Statewide Protections Against Ongoing Employment Discrimination

For Immediate Release
February 16, 2017

Media Contact:
Noel Alumit, alumit@law.ucla.edu
Office: 310-794-2332
Cell: 323-828-5554

94,700 LGBT Workers in Tennessee Lack Statewide Protections Against Ongoing Employment Discrimination

Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s existing non-discrimination law would protect these workers, and would not be costly or burdensome for the state to enforce

LOS ANGELES — Approximately 94,700 LGBT workers in Tennessee are vulnerable to employment discrimination absent explicit statewide legal protections, according to Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Tennessee, a new report co-authored by Christy Mallory, senior counsel, and Brad Sears, executive director, at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. Only two percent of Tennessee’s workforce is covered by local non-discrimination laws.

“A statewide law prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity would bring new protections to thousands of workers without burdening courts and agencies,” said Christy Mallory, senior counsel at the Williams Institute. “Most likely, the cost of handling complaints filed under the law could be absorbed into the existing enforcement system with no need for additional staff or resources.”

The report finds evidence of ongoing discrimination against LGBT people in Tennessee:

  • No localities in Tennessee prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in private-sector employment. Four localities protect city employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Aggregated data from two large public opinion polls find that 80 percent of Tennessee residents think that LGBT people experience a moderate amount to a lot of discrimination in the state.
  • In response to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 87 percent of respondents from Tennessee reported having experienced harassment or mistreatment at work at some point in their lives because of their gender identity.
  • Several recent instances of employment discrimination against LGBT employees in Tennessee have been documented in court cases and media reports, these include reports from public and private sector workers.
  • Census data show that in Tennessee, the median income of men in same-sex couples is 15 percent lower than the median income of men in different-sex marriages.

Employer policies and public opinion indicate support for non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in Tennessee:

  • Private companies may adopt internal non-discrimination policies to improve recruitment and retention of talented employees, to increase employee productivity and customer satisfaction, or to attract a larger customer base.  At least 24 large, private sector employers headquartered in Tennessee have internal non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, and 11 also include gender identity.  Additionally, the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee have policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in university employment.
  • Public opinion in Tennessee supports the passage of non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.  In response to a national poll conducted in 2011, 72 percent of those polled in Tennessee said that Congress should pass a federal law to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

A statewide law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity would not be burdensome or costly to enforce:

  • Adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s current non-discrimination law would result in approximately 44 additional complaints, on average, being filed with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission each year.
  • The anticipated new complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity could likely be absorbed into the existing system with no need for additional staff and negligible costs.

Findings in Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Tennessee are consistent with national data.

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