WASHINGTON -- A bi-partisan group of Senate and House members today introduced the fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit most employers across the country from discriminating against LGBT workers.
In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
In the House of Representatives, the bill was introduced by Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and joined by more than 100 co-sponsors.
ENDA would make it illegal under federal law for private employers with at least 15 employees to discriminate against, harass, or fire anyone due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. While surveys show that the great majority of Americans strongly support workplace protections for LGBT people, most states still provide no protection for employees and job applicants who are discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
"It is long past time for federal law to provide basic workplace protections for LGBT people, and we are gratified that this important legislation has been re-introduced with strong bipartisan support. In the months ahead, we look forward to working closely with leaders in Congress and state groups across the country to build support for the bill,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), called on Congress to pass the bill.
“It is shameful and embarrassing that past Congresses have failed to pass federal employment protections for LGBT Americans even though fair-minded leaders have advocated for its passage for years,” Griffin said. “As we experience the bipartisan sea change on LGBT equality, we call on Congress to seize this historic opportunity and ensure that workers are not unfairly treated based on who they are or who they love.”
HRC has been advocating for ENDA since it was first introduced in 1994 and its passage is a top organizational priority.
The last time a Senate committee considered ENDA was 2002 when Sen. Ted Kennedy was the HELP Committee Chairman, and this is the first time a gender identity inclusive bill is set to see action. Current committee chairman Tom Harkin has pledged a committee mark-up and Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he wants to bring the bill to the floor and HRC urges them to take these critical steps.
“Lawmakers can stand with the vast majority of Americans who support this common sense legislation or they can stand against the tide of history that is moving inexorably toward equality,” Griffin said. “Our country’s most successful corporations know that discrimination has no place in the workplace and Congress must follow their lead as well as the wishes of their constituents.”
A November 2011 poll by the HRC showed that 77% of voters support protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment. This includes 70% of Republicans and 69% of seniors. Voters are also unaware that current federal law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation with 87% believing that kind of discrimination to be illegal and only 5% correctly knowing that it remains legal.
Among Fortune 500 companies, 88% have sexual orientation non-discrimination policies and 57% have gender identity non-discrimination policies. Additionally, more than 90 companies have joined the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness, a group of leading U.S. employers that support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.