Reps. Barney Frank, Deborah Pryce, Tammy Baldwin, Chris Shays Introduce Employment Non-Discriminatio

by HRC Staff •

WASHINGTON - Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese joined with Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. and Chris Shays, R-Conn., to introduce the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the U.S. House of Representatives today. The bill would address discrimination in the workplace by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee based on the person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

"We are a nation predicated on equality, and over the years, we have embraced an increasingly broader and more inclusive vision of what that means," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "By passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, our country will simply be adding another proud chapter to the amazing American story of opportunity."

The bill would be similar to policies that are already in place at America's most profitable companies, with 87 percent of Fortune 500 companies including sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies. In addition, 10 times the number of Fortune 500 companies cover gender identity in their discrimination policies today compared to 2001. A growing list of major companies, currently 20, have joined the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness in support of a federal non-discrimination law. These businesses represent the financial, high-tech, food and beverage, apparel and insurance industries as well as others.

"Nationwide's equal employment opportunity, non-discrimination and harassment policies specifically state that we will not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any associate based on sexual orientation or gender identity," said Steven Keyes, vice president for compensation, benefits and human resources policy at Nationwide, a member of the business coalition. "Having a corporate culture that embraces diversity improves the productivity of our associates, helps the company recruit the best talent and makes Nationwide more competitive in the insurance and financial services industry."

Currently, federal law provides legal protection against employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin and disability, but not sexual orientation or gender identity. In 33 states across America, it is still legal to fire someone based on his or her sexual orientation, and in 42 states, it is still legal to fire someone for being transgender.

Qualified, hardworking Americans are denied job opportunities, fired or otherwise discriminated against for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance and abilities. Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, whether such orientation or identity is real or perceived, denies qualified individuals equal opportunities in the workplace. Those who experience this form of discrimination have no recourse under current federal law or under the Constitution as it has been interpreted by the courts.

Said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass:

"This is a protection against discrimination that has been tried in a number of states, beginning in Wisconsin more than 20 years ago, and it has worked extremely well. It has caused none of the problems that opponents inaccurately claimed it would and it has provided job protection for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who ask simply to be allowed do their jobs and be judged on their job performance."

Said Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio:

"This legislation is first and foremost about fairness - about allowing all Americans to pursue their right to earn a living. Workplace discrimination of any kind is wrong, period - yet, in 33 states, it is legal to fire an employee based solely on the basis of his or her sexual orientation."

Said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.:

"Twenty-five years ago, my own state of Wisconsin was the first in the nation to add sexual orientation to anti-discrimination statutes. Since then, 16 states have done the same. We call on Congress now to set a new and higher standard. With the support of the House leadership and members of both parties, I am hopeful that this Congress will close this loophole in existing law and pass a truly comprehensive and inclusive bill to outlaw employment discrimination."

Said Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn.:

"In my judgment, this is common-sense legislation. Working men and women should be judged on the basis of their performance at work. They should not have to fear being fired because of their sexual orientation."

Said the Rev. Dr. Dennis Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.:

"My question for you today is, how could you consider not passing this bill if it will help to protect the citizens of this country from discrimination and ensure that all enjoy the right to work, to earn a living, to provide for themselves and their families and to realize their full God-given potential. I know something about this because, as a black man in America, I have experienced firsthand the injustice of being discriminated against not because of what I could do, but simply because of who I was. Consequently, I made up my mind a long time ago that I would never intentionally oppress others in the manner in which I myself have been oppressed."

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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