- June 24 - 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, which would protect
gay and lesbian workers from job bias in all 50 states, according to the Human
"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 will extend federal employment protections
currently based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability
to sexual orientation. The bill will prohibit employers from using an individual's
sexual orientation as the basis for employment decisions, such as hiring, firing,
promotion or compensation.
ENDA does not cover small businesses with fewer than 15 employees.
There is an exemption for religious organizations, which includes 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.
The following lead sponsors spoke at the event: Sens. James
Jeffords, R-Vt., Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.; and Reps.
Barney Frank, D-Mass., Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., and Christopher Shays, R-Conn.
First introduced in 1994, ENDA came within one vote of Senate
passage in 1996. Major corporations that have already implemented non-discrimination
policies and that 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. A letter from William T. Monahan, Chairman
and CEO of Imation, a Minnesota based high-tech company, was released at the event.
"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 had 35 Senate cosponsors, including
two new cosponsors, Sens. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and 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.