Employment Protection Bill Reintroduced; Measure Would Protect Gay Employees in the Workplace

July 31, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Heralding its best chance yet to become law, a bipartisan group of lawmakers today reintroduced a federal bill banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Every worker should have the equal right to be free from bias at their jobs,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “This legislation affirms the basic principle that employment in the United States should not be based on one’s sexual orientation.”

The legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, is cosponsored by a long list of members of Congress, including Republican Reps. Chris Shays of Connecticut and Mark Foley of Florida and Democratic Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Ellen Tauscher of California. In the Senate, lead sponsors include Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, and Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

“The ACLU today recommits itself to winning passage of this simple legislation,” Anders said. “This bill would protect everyone, gay or straight, from being fired simply because of their sexual orientation. This is not a gay issue, but an equality issue.”

Anders said the bill enjoys widespread support on Capitol Hill, with more than 175 original cosponsors in the House and nearly forty cosponsors in the Senate. In addition, dozens of corporations, not-for-profit organizations and religious groups are supporting the legislation.

ENDA would add sexual orientation to the current list of federal employment protections that 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 religious organizations, including schools and institutions of higher learning owned or operated by a religious organization, and the military, and would not establish preferential treatment or quotas.

Currently, it is legal to fire an employee because of their sexual orientation in 38 states. In recent months, Maryland joined New Hampshire, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia in outlawing sexual orientation discrimination.

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