What is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act?

With all of the marriage talk last week, I didn’t get a chance to mention another significant milestone for gay and lesbian couples that occurred. Last Thursday, the Senate passed The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which prohibits discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), 29 states don’t have laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and 33 states don’t prevent discrimination based on gender identity. There has never been a federal law preventing such discrimination.

Obviously, a person’s career plays a vital role in their personal finances. And for many minorities (people of color, women, GLBT individuals, etc.), having to worry about the “glass ceiling” or a particular bias can stunt their professional growth. Laws like ENDA can relieve some of that worry (valid or not) and allow those people  to thrive in their work environment.

Here are some highlights from the bill:

  • It extends federal employment discrimination protections currently provided based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity. HRC rightly points out that GLBT people do not receive special rights under this law; they are simply covered under an already existing regime of fair employment practices.  
  • It prohibits employers, employment agencies, and labor unions from using an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation. Note that this bias can cut positively or negatively.
  • It provides for the same procedures, and similar, but somewhat more limited, remedies as are permitted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • The bill only applies to companies with 15 or more employees. Religious organizations receive an exemption under this law.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives where Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has implied he won’t bring it up for a vote. (Although many believe it would pass should the House vote.)   Unfortunately, ENDA might be yet another bill that dies in the House.  A version of ENDA has been introduced to every Congress, except for the 109th, since 1994.