August 06, 2009

Schumer, Gillibrand Co-Sponsoring Legislation to End Workplace Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Protections Already In Place Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Race, Religion, Gender, National Origin, Age, and Disability

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced they are co-sponsoring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a piece of legislation that would finally prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  ENDA extends federal employment discrimination protections currently provided based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand were joined by 36 of their Senate colleagues fighting for this cause. Senators Merkley (D-OR), Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME), and Kennedy (D-MA) are lead sponsors of the legislation.

"In a nation founded on the notion that all people are created equal, the bottom line is that all Americans must be free from the specter of workplace discrimination. This legislation will do just that," Schumer said. "For far too long, Americans have been fired or denied jobs simply because of who they are. But with this legislation, all Americans can rest assured that they are protected from discrimination at the workplace. I have long supported employment nondiscrimination legislation and will continue to fight to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly."

"It is long past time that our nation does what is right and outlaw employee discrimination in the workplace," Senator Gillibrand said. "Every New Yorker and every American deserves the opportunity to earn a fair wage and succeed in the workplace. This commonsense legislation will bring our hiring practices into the 21st century and help ensure fairness and equality for every New Yorker."

Qualified, hardworking Americans are denied job opportunities, fired or otherwise discriminated against just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).  There is no federal law that consistently protects LGBT individuals from employment discrimination; it remains legal in 29 states to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and in 38 states to do so based on gender identity or expression.  As a result, LGBT people face serious discrimination in employment, including being fired, being denied a promotion and experiencing harassment on the job.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  ENDA simply affords to all Americans basic employment protection from discrimination based on irrational prejudice.  The bill is closely modeled on existing civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The bill explicitly prohibits preferential treatment and quotas and does not permit disparate impact suits.  In addition, it exempts small businesses, religious organizations and the military, and does not require that domestic partner benefits be provided to the same-sex partners of employees.

ENDA extends federal employment discrimination protections currently provided based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity. It also prohibits public and private employers, employment agencies and labor unions from using an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotion or compensation. The Act provides for the same procedures, and similar, but somewhat more limited, remedies as are permitted under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 12 states and D.C. also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.  While these laws provide important protections, according to a 2002 General Accounting Office (GAO) report, relatively few complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation have been filed in these states.

Hundreds of companies have enacted policies protecting their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.  As of February 2009, 423 (85%) of the Fortune 500 companies had implemented non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, and 176 (more than one-third) had policies that include gender identity.

Other original co-sponsors of ENDA include Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin, Senators Daniel Akaka (HI), Jeff Bingaman (NM), Barbara Boxer (CA), Sherrod Brown (OH), Roland Burris (IL), Maria Cantwell (WA), Ben Cardin (MD), Bob Casey (PA), Chris Dodd (CT), Russ Feingold (WI), Diane Feinstein (CA), Al Franken (MN), Tom Harkin (IA), Daniel Inouye (HI), John Kerry (MA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Patrick Leahy (VT), Carl Levin (MI), Joe Lieberman (CT), Robert Menendez (NJ), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Patty Murray (WA), Jack Reed (RI), Bernie Sanders (VT), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Arlen Specter (PA), Mark Udall (CO), Tom Udall (NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Ron Wyden (OR), Jeff Merkley (OR), Susan Collins (ME),  Olympia Snowe (ME), and Edward M. Kennedy (MA).

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been endorsed by national civil rights organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the ACLU, labor organizations and more than 50 Fortune 500 companies.

Senator Schumer was an original co-sponsor of the last Senate ENDA in 2003 that narrowly escaped passage.