Bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Bill Introduced in the U.S. Senate

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.

From Senator Jeff Merkley’s press release:

“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.”

ENDA was introduced in the U.S. House earlier this month by Rep. Barney Frank.

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.

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to brainchildvn.


Randi Felix
Randi Felix6 years ago

good start now lets keep it going

Ron Avila
Ron Avila6 years ago

let's hope this goes somewhere

Brenda Gilbert
Brenda Gilbert6 years ago

Another small step in the right direction. Please support it by believing it to be possible. The reaction that says "this will never happen" adds negativity to an issue that already has a negativity overload. So, if you think this matter is important then please, please celebrate it as another drop in the ocean of love, compassion and acceptance for all humanity. Thank you. Thank you, as usual, Steve for posting this.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal6 years ago

Homophobia brings out anything but the best in human beings.

William Y.
William Y6 years ago

It is time to stop making issues out of non-issues. All humans are of one species, Homo sapiens, and therefore the only criteria for employment should be the qualifications for the job, not their sex, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or race/ethnic group.

Karrie C.
Gypsy Sage6 years ago

Not all lesbians and homosexuals that are involved with each other are in it for sex. Get your minds out of the gutter and start having compassion for people around you. What is a harm of working , living around or spending time with a homosexual or lesbian couple? I am a Christian and I don't think my Jesus will discriminate.

Dennis Warren

Unfortunately, this will never be passed in the House (probably won't even make it out of committee) as long as there are rethugs/teahadists/religious fundamentalists in the majority. And any Senator in a rethug/teahadist state who votes for this will have a really hard time holding on to her/his seat in the next election. Too bad as I see LGBTQ issues as important as women fighting for the right to vote and Black people fighting just to be seen as PEOPLE. This is one seriously fucked up country right now, and I hope we can somehow not continue over the cliff, but I have my doubts at times.

Mike N.
Mike N6 years ago

I agree with both Kris J. and Gabriella A. Sadly; Kris J. is absolutely correct. If we want this passed (and the repeal of DOMA too) we will need to fire the GOP!!

Kris J.
Kristina J6 years ago

The Senate is irrelevant right now, thanks to the pathetic weakness of the Democratic party. Until it can pass the House, it is just a waste of time. And that will not happen until at least 2013, and even then, only if America finally wakes up.

ENDA has been floating around for a while now, going no where. I am very glad that the trans community, who needs this legislation the most, is no longer being thrown under the bus to get it passed, but no time to celebrate yet.

ENDA and the repeal of DOMA are both very important, but neither will happen with the GOP bigots in power of either house or the white house.

Bud Mitten
Bud. Mitten6 years ago

It is about Time!