Critical civil rights legislation is currently being considered in Congress. This legislation, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), would expand people’s rights to be free from discrimination in the workplace.
As federal law, ENDA would prohibit intentional employment discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity by employers, employment agencies and labor organizations.
Today, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez of the Civil Rights Division testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on this legislation, which is a top priority of the Obama Administration and the Justice Department. Assistant Attorney General Perez:
“On an issue of basic equality and fundamental fairness for all Americans, we cannot in good conscience stand by and watch unjustifiable discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals occur in the workplace without redress. We have come too far in our struggle for “equal justice under the law” to remain silent or stoic when our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills or abilities and everything to do with myths, stereotypes, fear of the unknown, and prejudice. “
According to the Human Rights Campaign’s recently published Corporate Equality Index 2010 , as of September 2009, 434 (87 percent) of the Fortune 500 companies had implemented non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation, and 207 (41 percent) had policies that include gender identity.
During his testimony, Assistant Attorney General Perez spoke of a police officer in West Virginia who was repeatedly harassed by coworkers because of his sexual orientation. The officer was routinely sent on police calls without back-up, threatening the public safety and his own. After learning of the officer’s sexual orientation, one coworker allegedly hit him across the face with a night stick, breaking his glasses and cutting his eye. The officer believes that his eventual discharge was based on his sexual orientation and not his job performance.
“No American should be denied a job or the opportunity to earn promotions, pay raises and other benefits of employment because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity, which have no bearing on work performance. No one should be fired because he or she is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Period.”
And while many businesses and some states have passed protections, no one should have to suffer discrimination based on where they work or where they live. In 29 states , there no protections for lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals and 38 states provide no protection for transgender workers. State laws therefore leave large numbers of LGBT individuals without recourse for workplace discrimination on the basis of the sexual orientation or gender identity.
Assistant Attorney General Perez:
“Protecting valued members of our workforce from discrimination should not be left to a patchwork of state and local laws that leaves large gaps in coverage. Discrimination in my home state of Maryland is just as wrong as discrimination in Montana.”
You can read the full testimony, here (PDF).