Civil Rights Testing Reveals Bias Against LGBTQ Job Applicants in Virginia

"During one job interview, a gay tester reported that when he mentioned his husband, two employees looked at each other in open and obvious disbelief."

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Recently, the Equal Rights Center (ERC), a national nonprofit civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C., released a new report based on a civil rights testing investigation into bias against LGBTQ job applicants in Virginia. Using matched pair testing, the ERC compared the experiences of straight job applicants with gay/queer job applicants during the hiring process. The report reveals test results that point to the existence of discrimination against gay and lesbian job applicants, illustrating the need for statewide anti-discrimination protections in Virginia.

The Behind Closed Doors report provides important insight into the types of discrimination job applicants face on the basis of their sexual orientation in Virginia. The ERC conducted a total of 10 matched-pair tests at companies in Virginia. Civil rights testing typically involves one or more people covertly engaging in a transaction or interaction in order to uncover discrimination or compare conduct to legal and policy requirements. Matched pair civil rights testing provides a unique remedy to the disadvantages real job applicants experience in the hiring process due to their lack of access to information. Overall, some form of discrimination was suspected in three out of 10 comprehensive tests.

In two tests, results point to possible formal discrimination in which the straight-identified tester and the gay/queer-identified tester’s application process had objectively different outcomes. In both of these tests, the straight tester was offered a job and the gay/queer tester was not, even though there was an extremely high level of standardization when it came to their applications, qualifications, and interviews. None of the testers in these tests suspected that they were being discriminated against, a potential testament to the covert nature of present-day discrimination.

In a third test, the ERC uncovered possible informal or interpersonal discrimination. Though the test did not produce evidence of a discriminatory hiring decision, the gay-identified tester reported that he was openly ridiculed by two employees when he disclosed the gender of his spouse. This type of interpersonal discrimination could serve as a powerful deterrent to LGBT job applicants, as it may create fear of entering a hostile work environment. This effect may be especially powerful in a state such as Virginia, where LGBT job applicants have little legal recourse in the case of mistreatment.

“Nobody should have to worry about paying the bills because of discrimination in hiring or in the workplace,” said ERC Executive Director Melvina Ford. “Discrimination is a threat to the livelihoods of LGBT individuals and robust civil rights laws should be passed to protect people on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The Behind Closed Doors report and investigation are grounded in the context of increasing hostility against the LGBT community and the lack of federal law prohibiting discrimination against LGBT Americans in housing, employment, and public accommodations. The tests conducted as part of this investigation suggest that discrimination, specifically on the basis of sexual orientation, persists despite recent victories such as marriage equality. In response to the findings, the ERC issues a series of recommendations for lawmakers, businesses, and other entities with an interest in fairness and justice.

You can access the full report here and a social media toolkit here.