What is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act?

07/15/13 Samuel Johnson
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LGBT civil rights issues are poised to chalk up another victory. Last week a U.S. Senate committee passed the Employment Non-discrimination Act, or ENDA. If it passes, the bill would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Labor laws which were adopted to protect civil rights are already on the books. But Stetson Law School assistant professor, Jason Bent, says ENDA addresses issues other laws don’t.

”So the Civil Rights Act of 1964 only covered certain categorical things. Right, it covers race, national origin, and religion and so other things. But that sort of set the tone. It now, if you want to extend protections to another class; some other defined by some other characteristic. If you want to protect them from private discrimination then you need a separate piece of legislation.”

Sexual discrimination in the workplace isn’t limited to the LGBT community. Felipe Souza-Rodriquez is the co-director of Get Equal, a grassroots advocacy group which provides LGBT communities a forum to tell their stories about job discrimination.

”Discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation is where people...who are straight, but people think they are gay, bisexual or lesbian and then they often get fired. So, I mean we're talking about the full spectrum of everyone. Even straight people who are discriminated the quote/unquote look gay.”

The current language in the bill allows for some escape clauses and loopholes. Sometimes employers make assumptions regarding workers’ sexual orientation. Some call that perceived orientation. Daniel Tilley, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida says this highlights the shortcomings of the bill.

”They give a wide berth for employers to discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity if they're not just a religious institution but religiously affiliated. So if you're a religiously affiliated hospital you could fire a gay groundskeeper or a trans(exual) doctor. And this is troubling for a number of reasons. One, those obviously have no...those positions have no relation whatsoever to a particular religion. But secondly, those exemptions don't exist in other civil rights laws.”

The transgender community is highlighted because of ENDA’s use of “gender identity.” Staff attorney of the NYC based Transgender Legal and Education Fund, Noah Lewis, says high rate transgender job discrimination will be addressed with the passing of ENDA.

”transgender people face extraordinarily high rates of discrimination. Nine out of ten transgender people report experiencing harassment or discrimination on the job. Nearly half have been fired or denied promotion or not hired because of being transgender. One out of four transgender individuals have lost a job simply because they're transgender. So this is just a question of basic fairness. No one should be fired simply for being gay or transgender.”

Before the St Pete Pride event this year, Steve Kornell, a St. Pete City Council member, commented on a remark by Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s. Rubio had said he would not support ENDA because it would give preferential treatment to a certain group of people. Kornell says minorities can’t be given their rights.

”Gay people and the people covered under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, especially African-Americans, and other minorities don't have to be given their rights. They're entitled their rights by the (US) constitution; which says that all men are created equal. And to me that definition should include all people. And does include all people to me. And certain groups have fought to deny people their rights. So that's all people are asking for. They're not asking for preferential treatment. That's laughable. That's just not true.”

The bill has passed a U.S. Senate committee, but hasn’t been taken up by the full Senate or the House.

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