Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Senator: Texas workers can be fired for being gay

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, second from right at this July 1 rally outside the Texas Capitol, made a claim about Texans getting fired for being gay that we checked (Austin American-Statesman: Jay Janner).
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, second from right at this July 1 rally outside the Texas Capitol, made a claim about Texans getting fired for being gay that we checked (Austin American-Statesman: Jay Janner).

A San Antonio state senator says Texans can be denied a job or fired simply for being gay.

In a June 14 opinion article in the San Antonio Express-News, Leticia Van de Putte urged the city to "pass updates to the city code ensuring that the city, and those who contract with the city, will not discriminate against their employees because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or veterans' status."

Supporting the measures, which the City Council is expected to consider in August, the Democrat said of a fellow San Antonio resident, an Iraq veteran: "Here in his home state and his home city, he can be denied or fired from a job just because he is gay."

We figured Van de Putte was making a broad statement about all Texans and all San Antonians; a spokesman for the senator, Lee Nichols, confirmed that.

Like nearly all U.S. states, we learned, Texas is an employment-at-will state. That means, as the Texas Municipal League puts it in a legal white paper, "Generally, employees without a written employment contract can be fired for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all," as long as that cause is not illegal.

Then again, state law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or applicants because of "race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or age." The law does not mention sexual orientation.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that "in 29 states in this country you can still get fired for … being gay," as Martina Navratilova claimed in a May 2013 interview. PolitiFact rated the ex-tennis star’s statement Half True, noting significant exceptions.

In all states, federal and state government employees have certain protections because courts have backed the idea that sexual orientation is one of the categories that would permit a discrimination lawsuit under the right of equal protection in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Also, cities or individual employers can have anti-discrimination policies even if their state does not. That’s the case in several Texas cities including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.

Van de Putte’s statement, overlooking some important details, came out Half True on the Truth-O-Meter. See our full analysis to the right.