ACLU Calls on Congress to Support Bias Protections for Gay, Lesbian Employees

April 24, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Citing instances nationwide of people being fired because of their sexual orientation, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged a Senate committee to support a long-awaited bill to protect all employees from discrimination in the workplace.

“Simple fairness demands that all workers be judged based solely on job performance – not on prejudice or bias based on sexual orientation,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Gay men and lesbians should not be forced to hide in the closet to keep a job.”

The ACLU urged support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S 1284), which is set for vote today in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

The bipartisan legislation is cosponsored by a long list of members of Congress, with 190 cosponsors in the House and 43 cosponsors in the Senate. Lead sponsors in the Senate include Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (PA), Independent Jim Jeffords (VT), and Democrats Kennedy and Joseph Lieberman (CT).

“This legislation affirms the basic principle that employment in the United States should not be based on one’s sexual orientation,” Anders said. “Every employee deserves the equal right to be free from bias at his or her job.”

The employment non-discrimination bill would add sexual orientation to the current list of federal employment protections, which already ban discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability. The bill would prohibit employers with 15 or more employees from using a person’s sexual orientation in decisions such as firing, hiring, promotion or compensation. The bill would exempt the military and religious organizations and would not establish preferential treatment or quotas.

To date, it is legal to fire an employee because of their sexual orientation in 38 states. California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Minnesota, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin are the only states to have passed laws that outlaw sexual orientation discrimination.

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