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Struggle continues to protect Michigan's LGBT workers

Michigan law protects workers from being unfairly discriminated against in the workplace because of their race, sex, religion, nationality, age and several other categories. The federal Civil Rights Act provides similar protections. However, neither state nor federal laws specifically list sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories. Civil rights activists have long argued that this situation leaves LGBT workers vulnerable to workplace discrimination.

Recently, state lawmakers officials have revived a push to enshrine protections or LGBT workers into the law. Last year, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission announced it would interpret the state's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include protection for LGBT workers. The commission said it would consider the law's protections against discrimination on the basis of sex to include protections against employment and housing discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The move sparked controversy among lawmakers, and former Attorney General Bill Schuette stated that the commission's interpretation is wrong. When asked recently, new Attorney General Dana Nessel declined to issue an opinion about the interpretation, but said the commission is not bound by Schuette's opinion.

For now, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights will follow the commission's interpretation. Some lawmakers have continued to push for new language in the civil rights law that would explicitly make sexual orientation and gender identity protected categories.

This is good news for LGBT workers in Michigan, but many types of discrimination remain a problem in the workplace. Workers who feel they have been unfairly discriminated against can talk to an experienced employment law attorney to learn more about their rights and legal options.

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