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Published August 26 2012

Ask Your Government: Can someone be fired in North Dakota because they are gay?

Dear Teri,

Can gays legally be fired in North Dakota just because they are gay? Someone said that a person can be fired just for that reason, and I just find it hard to believe.

Raymond Mason

Fargo

Thanks for writing! Before I answer your question, I just wanted to let my readers know this is my last Ask Your Government column. As you’re reading this, I’ve finished the first week of my doctoral program – only three more years to go.

Now, back to business. Here’s what Labor Commissioner Tony Weiler said in response to your question:

“Sexual orientation is not a protected category under state human rights laws or under federal law. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), however, is litigating some cases and arguing the firing is still based on sex and is having some success.

“So, the answer is: It will depend on the circumstances but, under state law, generally, the answer is yes.”

I then asked Barry Nelson of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition if he wanted to provide a response. Here’s what he said:

“In North Dakota, workers can be fired ‘at will’ for a myriad of reasons. You can be fired because your boss doesn’t like your haircut and, yes, you can be fired solely because of who you have a committed and loving relationship with.

“Even though there is a human rights law in North Dakota, it does not specifically note sexual orientation as a ‘protected class,’ meaning that someone who is gay can be fired solely for that reason with impunity for the employer.

“This extends to housing as well. A landlord could legally evict someone from their housing or refuse to rent to someone because they are gay in North Dakota.

“The North Dakota Human Rights Coalition has advocated time and again for legislation that would protect all North Dakotans, no matter who they love, from infringements on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“An attempt to pass legislation in the 2009 legislative session to include sexual orientation as a protected class from discrimination under North Dakota law was passed in the North Dakota Senate but defeated in the House of Representatives.

“The North Dakota Human Rights Coalition will continue to fight for all North Dakota residents, recognizing that its residents currently can be discriminated against with impunity.”


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Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications