Merkley, Kirk, Harkin, Collins Introduce Legislation to End Workplace Discrimination

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senators Jeff Merkley (OR), Mark Kirk (IL), Tom Harkin (IA), and Susan Collins (ME) introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to finally prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The right to work hard and earn a living is a fundamental right.  It is essential to the success of a family.  It is essential to the pursuit of happiness.  It is part of equality under the law,” Senator Merkley said.  “The test of whether you can get and hold a job should be whether you can do the job, not your sexual orientation or gender identity.  I’m proud to join Senators Kirk, Harkin, and Collins to introduce the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and take an important step in the march towards equality.”

“I seek to serve in the mold of Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL), a fiscal conservative and social moderate who passed the Civil Rights Act. I backed this legislation when first elected in 2000 and I continue to believe nothing provides more dignity than a job, knowing America’s economy needs a productive, diverse, competitive workforce,” Senator Kirk said.  “We will have more jobs and higher incomes when the most qualified individuals are given the best opportunities, regardless of orientation. This legislation ensures that.” 

“Everyone deserves a fair chance to work hard for their piece of the American dream,” Senator Harkin said. “Discrimination on the basis of a worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible, and it ought to be illegal.  We have rightly stood up against workplace discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability.  Now it is time we ensure that all workers are judged on their talents, abilities and capabilities free from prejudices.”

“Our legislation affirms the principle that individuals should be judged solely on their skills and abilities,” said Senator Collins.  “Similar to the current law in several states, including Maine, and the policies of many Fortune 500 companies, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would close an important gap in federal civil rights laws by making it illegal to discriminate in employment based on sexual orientation.”

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2011 would prohibit employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against those employed or seeking employment, on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.  Such protections are already in place prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability.

More than 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies already extend workplace protections based on sexual orientation and more than one-third on the basis of gender identity.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been endorsed by national civil rights organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the ACLU, labor organizations and more than 75 Fortune 500 companies.

“In today’s economy job security is important to all Americans, especially LGBT people who can be fired for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.  “Passing ENDA is essential to ensuring that all Americans have an equal opportunity to work and contribute to this country’s economy.  I commend Senators Merkley, Kirk, Harkin and Collins for their leadership and commitment to ENDA.”

“The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights strongly supports ENDA,” President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Wade Henderson said.  “We believe that civil rights should be measured by a single yardstick and that workers should be hired or fired based on performance and qualifications, not on immutable characteristics such as race, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  For too many Americans, this principle has little meaning, and this long overdue legislation will finally close a major gap in our nation’s civil rights laws.”

“ENDA would bring an end to the devastating effect that workplace discrimination has on American families,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office.  “The right to work free from baseless discrimination shouldn’t be denied to any American and should not hinge upon a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Working Americans should not be forced to deny and hide themselves or their families and loved ones in order to hold a job. With bills introduced with substantial and bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, Congress has no excuse not to pass ENDA this year.”

“Congress has waited far too long to pass an inclusive bill that would provide basic workplace protections for LGBT people, and we must fight for this legislation’s passage,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell.  “We don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer—too many people are at risk, too many people are being discriminated against day, and too many people need these basic workplace protections. We must hold our elected officials accountable to their duty of protecting each and every single one of us until a fully-inclusive ENDA is signed into law.”

“Nike stands with Senator Merkley and the other co-sponsors toward the reintroduction and passage of a fully inclusive ENDA bill,” said Nike U.S. Director of Government and Public Affair Orson C. Porter.  “At Nike, we firmly believe that diversity drives innovation, which is a cornerstone of our business. Although more and more businesses in the U.S. have implemented policies that address workplace fairness for LGBT employees – the nation still needs a federal standard that treats all employees equal. Now is the time to do the right thing and pass ENDA into law.”

“At Sara Lee, we operate in a multi-cultural marketplace,” said Sara Lee Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Mark Demich.  “Therefore, we believe that having a workforce comprised of people from different backgrounds and life perspectives can lead to better customer and consumer insights, greater innovation and a more inclusive environment for our employees. Such an inclusive environment embodies who we are. In fact, Be Inclusive is one of our core values.  Therefore, we strive to create and sustain a culture of inclusion and a workplace that is fair, equitable and free from discrimination. We strongly support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that outlaws discriminatory practices based upon sexual orientation and gender identity. And we thank Illinois Senator Mark Kirk for signing on as a co-sponsor.”