WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan assembly of congressional lawmakers today reintroduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Congressional leadership should move swiftly to allow Senate and House votes on the bill that would protect gay and lesbian workers from job bias in all 50 states, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
"Congress has the power to end a major injustice that still haunts this country," said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. "It is perfectly legal to fire gay, lesbian or bisexual people in this country simply because of their real or perceived sexual orientation. Most Americans find that abhorrent, and support this effort to outlaw unfair job discrimination against gay people."
If passed, ENDA would extend federal employment protections currently based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation. The bill would prohibit employers from using an individual's sexual orientation as the basis for employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotion or compensation.
ENDA would not cover small businesses with fewer than 15 employees. There is an exemption for religious organizations, including educational institutions substantially controlled or supported by religious organizations. Under this legislation, preferential treatment and quotas are explicitly forbidden and the legislation clearly states that affirmative action programs may not be imposed as a remedy for sexual orientation discrimination.
Slated to speak at the event are the bill's lead sponsors: Sens. James Jeffords, R-Vt., Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.; also attending will be Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. and Barney Frank, D-Mass.
First introduced in 1994, ENDA came within one vote of Senate passage in 1996. Major corporations that already have their own non-discrimination policies and support ENDA include Eastman Kodak, Bell Atlantic, Microsoft and AT&T. Eleven states currently have laws prohibiting discrimination: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Nevada. Also to be released at the announcement event is a letter from William T. Monahan, Chairman and CEO of Imation, a Minnesota based high tech company.
"Quite simply, ENDA would afford gay and lesbian Americans basic employment protection from discrimination based on prejudice," wrote Monahan. "The principles it fosters are consistent with our corporate principles of treating all employees with fairness and respect."
At press time, the bill has 35 Senate cosponsors, including two new cosponsors, Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. In the House, it has 153 cosponsors, including Reps. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, Michael Forbes, R-N.Y., and Calvin Dooley, D-Calif. Additional House and Senate cosponsors are expected to announce their support tomorrow.
"We have seen growing support for ENDA since it was first introduced in 1994," said Winnie Stachelberg, HRC political director. "For the first time we see support coming from key lawmakers in leadership positions in both parties."
President Clinton, who first endorsed ENDA in October 1995, said the bill is about "ensuring that Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, can find and keep their jobs based on their ability and the quality of their work. It is designed to protect the rights of all Americans to participate in the job market without fear of unfair discrimination." Clinton reiterated his support in his 1999 State of the Union address.
The public supports ENDA by a wide margin, according to a bipartisan 1998 poll conducted for the Human Rights Campaign by Lake Snell Perry and Associates and American Viewpoint. The poll shows that 58 percent of Americans support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The poll of 800 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian and gay Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.