For Gay Employees Workplace Equality Remains Elusive, Issue Brief Author Writes

September 6, 2010
For some Americans, Labor Day is a fleeting break to take stock of personal or professional advancements and to mark the dwindling days of summer. But for lesbian, gay men, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers it can too often serve as a reminder that equality in the workforce has yet to be achieved, as Professor Maxine Eichner notes in a new ACS Issue Brief.

Eichner, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, notes that Congress has taken steps to protect workers from discrimination, such as passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which "prohibited discrimination on a number of bases: race, religion, color, national origin and sex," as well as other federal laws protecting against discrimination based on age or disabilities.

But there is no similar federal legislation to protect LGBT workers from discrimination in the workforce, and Eichner notes, the states have largely failed to provide protections as well. "Twenty-nine states, including all of the South, and most of the Midwest and West, afford no employment discrimination for gays and lesbians. Moreover, the twenty-one state statutes that offer some protection generally are significantly limited in scope," she writes.

Eichner says it's time for Congress to act by finally passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). She explains:

ENDA would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity with respect to hiring, firing, and terms of employment. The bill would also protect workers from retaliation. In this way, ENDA is an important step toward ensuring fairness for LGBT workers. The legislation stands for the proposition that like other employees, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees should be judged on their work performance, rather than on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As it stands now, far too many LGBT workers are confronted with discrimination within the workplace. Citing a study, Eichner notes that twenty-eight percent of LGBT workers reported suffering from workplace discrimination.

"In one reported case, a gay maintenance worker had his hands and feet bound by his co-workers. In another, a transgender corrections officer was smashed into a concrete wall. Further accounts of LGBT workers who are subjected to harassing comments and unequal working conditions once their status was discovered abound," Eichner writes.

The Issue Brief, "The Employment Non-Discrimination Act: Requiring Fairness for All Employees Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity," is available here.