A bill to make it illegal to discriminate against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2011, was introduced into the U.S. Senate on Thursday with bipartisan support.
Introduced by Democratic senators Jeff Merkley (Oregon) and Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine) and Mark Kirk of (Illinois), the legislation is described as a simple matter of fairness and a fundamental right that goes beyond party politics.
“The right to work hard and earn a living is a fundamental right. It is essential to the success of a family. It is essential to the pursuit of happiness. It is part of equality under the law,” Senator Merkley said. “The test of whether you can get and hold a job should be whether you can do the job, not your sexual orientation or gender identity. I’m proud to join Senators Kirk, Harkin, and Collins to introduce the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and take an important step in the march towards equality.”
“I seek to serve in the mold of Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL), a fiscal conservative and social moderate who passed the Civil Rights Act. I backed this legislation when first elected in 2000 and I continue to believe nothing provides more dignity than a job, knowing America’s economy needs a productive, diverse, competitive workforce,” Senator Kirk said. “We will have more jobs and higher incomes when the most qualified individuals are given the best opportunities, regardless of orientation. This legislation ensures that.”
“Everyone deserves a fair chance to work hard for their piece of the American dream,” Senator Harkin said. “Discrimination on the basis of a worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible, and it ought to be illegal. We have rightly stood up against workplace discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability. Now it is time we ensure that all workers are judged on their talents, abilities and capabilities free from prejudices.”
“Our legislation affirms the principle that individuals should be judged solely on their skills and abilities,” said Senator Collins. ” Similar to the current law in several states, including Maine, and the policies of many Fortune 500 companies, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would close an important gap in federal civil rights laws by making it illegal to discriminate in employment based on sexual orientation.”
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2011 is designed to prohibit employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from making employment-related decisions against those already employed or seeking employment on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. Protections already exists to guard against discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability.
As in previous incarnations, the legislation carries exemptions for religious institutions and small businesses.
Several states and many more local districts have moved to add sexual orientaiton and gender identity to nondiscrimination statutes, and more than 85% of Fortune 500 companies already extend such protections on the basis of sexual orientation and more than one third on grounds of gender identity. However, without a federal law this still leaves a sizable population without protections, particularly the trans community.
LGBT rights advocates are urging lawmakers to do the right thing and pass this legislation, with National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell quoted as saying:
“Congress has waited far too long to pass an inclusive bill that would provide basic workplace protections for LGBT people, and we must fight for this legislation’s passage. We don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer — too many people are at risk, too many people are being discriminated against and too many people need these basic workplace protections. We must hold our elected officials accountable to their duty of protecting each and every single one of us until a fully-inclusive ENDA is signed into law.”
Senator Merkley’s press release also quotes Nike U.S. Director of Government and Public Affair Orson C. Porter as throwing the company’s support behind the bill:
“Nike stands with Senator Merkley and the other co-sponsors toward the reintroduction and passage of a fully inclusive ENDA bill. At Nike, we firmly believe that diversity drives innovation, which is a cornerstone of our business. Although more and more businesses in the U.S. have implemented policies that address workplace fairness for LGBT employees – the nation still needs a federal standard that treats all employees equal. Now is the time to do the right thing and pass ENDA into law.”
And also Sara Lee, with the food and beverage company’s Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Mark Demich saying:
“At Sara Lee, we operate in a multi-cultural marketplace. Therefore, we believe that having a workforce comprised of people from different backgrounds and life perspectives can lead to better customer and consumer insights, greater innovation and a more inclusive environment for our employees. Such an inclusive environment embodies who we are. In fact, Be Inclusive is one of our core values. Therefore, we strive to create and sustain a culture of inclusion and a workplace that is fair, equitable and free from discrimination. We strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that outlaws discriminatory practices based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. And we thank Illinois Senator Mark Kirk for signing on as a co-sponsor.”
Frank has been open in saying that he does not expect the Republican-controlled House to pass the legislation, but has said he would like to use the next two years to grow support for the legislation and convince Republicans that remain hostile to the bill that workplace protections for LGBTs should not be a partisan issue.