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With Or Without HERO, Houston Employers Risk Legal Trouble For Workplace Discrimination

Federal civil rights laws protect employees against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is cracking down on violators.

Local employers could find themselves in legal trouble if they discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender employees, even with the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) off the books for good. They still need to worry about another four-letter acronym: EEOC. That’s the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency charged with handling enforcement of civil rights laws.

“The EEOC has already said that they will and in fact they already have investigated complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” says Joseph Gagnon, an attorney with the Houston office of Fisher & Phillips LLP. “So employers are not immune from liability now, even though this ordinance has been defeated.”

Several of Houston’s leading business organizations, including the Greater Houston Partnership, have expressed concerns that striking down HERO could make it more difficult for the city to convince businesses to move here from the East or West Coasts.

Gagnon says he expects Houston’s city government is likely to revisit the issue, passing a revised anti-discrimination statute under the next mayor.

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Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas delegations in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the Texas governorship, the state legislature, and county and city governments. Before taking up his current post, Andrew...

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