AMHERST — More gay, lesbian and transgender people are finding protection with the 2013 extension of federal anti-discrimination coverage to sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly in states that don’t have similar laws.
Researchers with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Employment Equity reported on these findings in the recently released “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 discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state agencies between 2013-16.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently ban all sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. Wisconsin bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. Twenty-four other states have at least one city or county that offer some form of protection.
But for residents without local and state-based protections, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides the only available recourse for those facing sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, according to the report.
Badgett believes that with the 2013 changes, people felt more comfortable filing complaints. She also thinks that the numbers in states without protections are underreported — about 23 percent lower than in the states with protections.
Badgett, a UMass economics professor, said the research is important to show that the expanded protections are helping. “We have some patchy laws and policy and some states don’t have (protection),” she said.
She said the ability to file with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “is really access to justice” and the report shows that even people in states without laws are afforded federal protection.
“We hope it’s useful (to show) the need to have a policy that does cover everybody in the country,” she said.
While charges were filed by people in all demographics, she was surprised to see that 43 percent of those filing charges were African-Americans when they account for just 12 percent of the U.S. labor force.
“It was very surprising. For a lot of reasons, people have the image that LGBT (people are) mostly white people. When you have so many people of color there might be something very complicated going (on with) having more than one identity (that could be discriminated against).”
Among other findings, more than 40 percent of complaints come from a small number of industries, some of which pay low wages relative to the economy as a whole: retail, accommodations and food services, and administration waste management and remediation services.
About 54 percent of the complaints were filed because of discharge, with 47 percent filed because of alleged harassment, according to the report.
Badgett said this is just the beginning of the reporting. The researchers are looking at more details such as the kinds of jobs where people are more discriminated against. “Were there more charges in male dominated jobs, for example?” she said.