In New Jersey, employment laws prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of factors like sex, race, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity, to name but a few. This state was ahead of many other states in adding the latter two categories to its anti-discrimination statute. At the federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined some time ago that discrimination based on sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. This conclusion, however, did not have the force of law. Federal anti-discrimination law did not include these categories until the U.S. Supreme Court reached essentially the same conclusion as the EEOC in 2020. Earlier this year, the EEOC published an article tracing the history of LGBTQI+ rights in the workplace and discussing best practices for employers under federal law.
According to the EEOC, only twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have employment laws that specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. New Jersey is among them. Significant improvements in LGBTQI+ rights probably began in 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed “homosexuality” from its list of psychiatric disorders. Two years later, Pennsylvania enacted the first state law against sexual orientation discrimination in employment. New Jersey followed with an amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) in 1991.
A 2006 amendment to the NJLAD added “gender identity or expression” to the list of protected categories. New Jersey was actually ahead of the APA in this case. The organization did not remove “gender identity disorder” from its manual until 2012, replacing it with the diagnosis of “gender dysphoria.” Both the New Jersey Legislature and the APA remained ahead of the federal government on these issues.