The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is set to be reintroduced before both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on Thursday. The legislation would put into place federal protections for LGBT people in the workplace, making it illegal to fire or otherwise discriminate against a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Raw Story spoke to labor rights attorney John P. Mahoney, a partner in the labor and employment law practice Tully Rinckey who said that his firm is constantly receiving complaints of discrimination and harassment in federal workplaces, but that the time is right for ENDA and that the “political winds are blowing the right way” in favor of the bill becoming law.
“We have hundreds of discrimination cases at any given time pending against the executive branch of the federal government,” said Mahoney by phone. His firm, he said, represents plaintiffs throughout the U.S. and around the world who have been victims of discrimination at jobs with the federal government.
“So, unfortunately, there’s a lot of discrimination in the federal government that persists to this day,” he said, “which is why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is so important.”
There are currently no federal statutes protecting LGBT workers. Rules vary from state to state, meaning federal employees in one state may lack the protections availed to employees in more progressive parts of the country.
“Currently, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,” Mahoney said, “sexual orientation is not a protected bases, so technically, employment discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation in the federal government is not unlawful.”
ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994, except for the 109th. Similar non-discrimination legislation has been repeatedly introduced since 1974 but never passed.
In 2009, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced language to the Act to include transgender people, an action that was echoed in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
Merkley plans to reintroduce ENDA in the Senate, and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) intends introduce the Act in the House.
“It’s expected that this time around, there’s a lot of political pressure on the issue of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” Mahoney said, “both in terms of marital rights and hopefully in terms of employment law as well. It seems like the political winds are blowing the right way.”
“I think the bill is in the best place that it’s been over the years that it’s been introduced in the Congress,” he concluded. “So we’re going to work hard to see that Congress passes it and the president signs it.”
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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