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In a June 14, 2013, opinion article in the San Antonio Express-News, state Sen. 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 was expected to consider in August 2013, 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, 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.
Section 21.051 of the Texas Labor Code, Nichols said via email, makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or applicants because of "race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or age," but does not mention sexual orientation. Van de Putte offered a bill during the 2013 Legislature’s regular session to extend that protection, he said.
Here’s the law, part of the Texas Labor Code’s Title 2, Subtitle A, Chapter 21:
SUBCHAPTER B. UNLAWFUL EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES
Sec. 21.051. DISCRIMINATION BY EMPLOYER. An employer commits an unlawful employment practice if because of race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or age the employer:
(1) fails or refuses to hire an individual, discharges an individual, or discriminates in any other manner against an individual in connection with compensation or the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment; or
(2) limits, segregates, or classifies an employee or applicant for employment in a manner that would deprive or tend to deprive an individual of any employment opportunity or adversely affect in any other manner the status of an employee.
So while it’s illegal in Texas to "deprive an individual of any employment opportunity" or refuse to hire someone because of gender, race and several other factors, it isn’t against state law to do so because they are homosexual or of any other sexual orientation.
Spokesman Charlie Joughin at the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, told us 21 states have laws meant to protect residents against job discrimination based on 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.
PolitiFact also noted that cities or individual employers can have anti-discrimination policies even if their state does not.
That’s the case in several Texas cities.
City of Austin spokeswoman Patricia Fraga told us by phone that Austin ordinances protect against discrimination citywide in employment, housing and public accommodations -- a term that takes in businesses such as restaurants, theaters, bars and stores -- for reasons that include sexual orientation.
Ordinances in Dallas and Fort Worth bar such discrimination citywide. Houston has several related ordinances, spokesman Justin Concepcion of the mayor’s office told us by phone. El Paso has a citywide ordinance against housing and public accommodation discrimination for sexual orientation, but not employment, deputy city attorney Laura Gordon told us by phone.
San Antonio’s website advises its employees, "Unlawful discrimination may be occurring if you are treated differently because of" reasons that include sexual orientation. The proposed measures were described by the Express-News in a July 25, 2013, news blog entry as a "proposal to fix the city’s anti-discrimination policies, which right now are a hodgepodge of disparate references scattered across the city’s code."
Van de Putte spokesman Servando Esparza told us by phone that protections at the city level were important, but not a comprehensive guarantee of rights, because a resident could move or rules could change as new city officials came in. "We wanted to make sure this was solved at the state level," he said.
Van de Putte said that a Texan and San Antonian could be "denied or fired from a job just because he is gay."
In Texas, it appears, many workers can be fired for nearly any reason. That said, state law also doesn’t bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. But several major cities do and Texans who work for state or federal government -- and even for San Antonio city government itself -- have some protections, too.
We rate this statement, which does not account for these important details, as Half True.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, San Antonio Express-News opinion article, "City Council should pass human-rights ordinance," June 14, 2013
Email interview, excerpted, with Lee Nichols, communications director, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, June 17, 2013
Telephone interview with Servando Esparza, policy analyst, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, July 25-26, 2013
Texas Labor Code, Title 2, Subtitle A, Chapter 21
Telephone interview with Charlie Joughin, deputy press secretary, Human Rights Campaign, July 25, 2013
Telephone interview with Patricia Fraga, marketing manager, City of Austin, July 25, 2013
Telephone interview with Chalisa Warren, senior public information representative, Fair Housing Office, City of Dallas, July 26, 2013
Telephone interview with Veronica Villegas, communications officer, Human Relations Unit, City of Fort Worth, July 26, 2013
Telephone interview with Laura Gordon, deputy city attorney, City of El Paso, July 26, 2013
Telephone interview with Justin Concepcion, social media coordinator, Mayor’s Office, City of Houston, July 26, 2013
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