The recent Supreme Court decision striking down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) may signal a new era for lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the Unites States. That decision held that the provision of the law defining marriage as the “union between one man and one woman” for the purposes of federal law violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution. While this decision has been hailed as a victory for LGBT rights activists, Title VII, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace, still does not extend to members of the LGBT community. Earlier this month, a proposed federal law known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee by a 15-7 margin. According to a report on Rachel Maddow’s blog at msnbc.com, the measure passed the committee with 3 Republicans joining the 12 Democrats who sit on that committee.
In its current form, the bill would prohibit employers with more than 15 employees from discrimination that is based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly to Title VII, the law would have provisions exempting religious organizations and certain membership-only clubs or groups. While some states have enacted their own laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a majority have not. This means that in the states that have not enacted such protections to LGBT employees, those employees can be fired, demoted, denied advancement, or even openly harassed with no legal recourse.
The Oregon Equality Act, passed in 2007, extended anti-discrimination protections to members of the LGBT community. Some of the types of employment discrimination that the law prohibits include:
-Refusal to hire
-Discriminate in compensation
-Refuse to provide a reference for employment
-Discriminate against a person because they opposed or complained about an unlawful practice.
The provisions of the law extend beyond protections in employment, and also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation is housing, public accommodation (all places open to the public), financial matter, public education, foster parenting, and other state institutions.
The Obama Administration has expressed support for ENDA, issuing a statement on July 10, 2013 which said that the “President has long supported an inclusive ENDA, which would enshrine into law strong, lasting and comprehensive protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Whether this bill becomes law remains to be seen, but it seems apparent that the DOMA decision may be representative of a significant shift in public opinion towards the rights of LGBT people to be free from discrimination. Anyone who believes that they may have experienced or are experiencing workplace discrimination should contact an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are being protected.