House Labor Committee Passes Historic Legislation to End Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation
The House Education and Labor Committee today approved historic legislation to end workplace discrimination against Americans on the basis of sexual orientation.
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The legislation approved today by a vote of 27 to 21, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, is based on legislation introduced earlier this year by U.S. Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). If enacted, it would prohibit employment discrimination, preferential treatment, and retaliation on the basis of sexual orientation by employers with 15 or more employees. Thirty states permit employers to fire employees based solely on their sexual orientation.
"We have made history today by taking steps to ensure that discrimination based on sexual orientation is wrong and will not be tolerated," said Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), chairman of the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee, which held a hearing on the Frank-Baldwin legislation in September. "I commend the members who voted in favor of this long-overdue legislation."
At the September hearing, the subcommittee heard testimony from workers who had experienced job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Brooke Waits was fired from her Texas telecommunications job after her employer discovered that she is a lesbian. Since the state of Texas allows employers to fire workers based on sexual orientation, Ms. Waits had no recourse to get her job back. "In a single afternoon, I went from being a highly praised employee, to out of a job," she testified at the hearing.
"It is hard to believe that otherwise fully qualified, bright and capable individuals are being denied employment or fired from their jobs for these completely non-work related reasons," said Miller today. "This is profoundly unfair and, indeed, un-American."
The September hearing also highlighted the fact that many businesses have enacted nondiscrimination policies - both for civil rights reasons and to benefit their own competitiveness. "Perhaps the best evidence that nondiscrimination policies are good for business comes from the fact that many companies have voluntarily adopted such a policy," testified Lee Badgett, the research director at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, at the September hearing. Badgett testified that 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies have adopted nondiscrimination policies for sexual orientation.
At today's committee meeting, Miller thanked advocates around the country who have pushed for legislation to guard against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. While the legislation approved today does not include gender identity, Miller said he believed that gender identity protections would gain the political support necessary to pass in the future. "I believe that the step we are taking today will lay the foundation for passing these additional protections in the future, and I urge proponents of gender identity protections to keep up the fight," said Miller.