Merkley, Kirk, Polis, Ros-Lehtinen Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to End Workplace Discrimination

Washington, DC – Today, bipartisan coalitions in the Senate and House introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Senate bill is sponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).  In the House, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) have introduced a companion bill. 

“Discrimination is just plain wrong.  It is shocking that there is still anywhere in America where it is legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Merkley said. “Americans understand that it’s time to make sure our LGBT friends and family are treated fairly and have the same opportunities as all Americans.  Now it’s time for our laws to catch up.  People should be judged at work on their ability to do the job, period.”

 “The legacy of Senator Everett Dirksen, a fiscal conservative and social moderate from Illinois who helped pass the Civil Rights Act, guides the principles of this legislation,” Kirk said. “Our economy needs a productive, diverse, competitive workforce where the most qualified individuals are given opportunities, regardless of orientation.”

 “Across our country, LGBT Americans face the daily fear of losing their jobs and livelihood simply because of who they are or who they love,” Polis said. “Dedicated individuals should be judged based on their work, nothing more and nothing less. I am proud to reintroduce the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with Representative Ros-Lehtinen and so many of our colleagues in the House of Representatives. We will work together to see the federal workplace protections in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed into law.”

 “I am proud to join my colleagues in the House and Senate to re-introduce the Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It is inherently unfair that many skilled, qualified and motivated LGBT members of our communities too often experience rejections at job interviews, are denied promotions, or other forms of harassment in the workplace, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is unacceptable. Federal law is currently failing these LGBT individuals and consequently, a majority of states still allow employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill that we are proposing will end this unacceptable practice by prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. No American should have to fear harassment at work, or risk losing their livelihood because of who they are. That is why Congress needs to work to get this bill passed and set a national standard of equality for all in the workplace.”

 “Over the last 45 years, we have made great strides towards eliminating discrimination in the workplace.  Our country is a far better place because of laws against discrimination in the workplace based on race, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability, among others,” Harkin said, who is Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.  “It is time, at long last, for us to also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Such discrimination is wrong and cannot be tolerated. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans are first-class citizens; they are full and welcome members of our American family; and they deserve the same civil rights protections as all other Americans – to be judged based on their talent, ability, qualifications and what they can contribute, not by their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is an important bill that I hope to bring before the full HELP Committee very soon.”

 “This legislation would strengthen federal law to help protect American workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Collins said. “Similar to current law in several states, and the policies of many Fortune 500 companies, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would close an important gap in federal civil rights laws and affirm the principle that employees should be judged solely on their skills and abilities. 

“I am proud to join a bi-partisan effort that advances our founding belief that all Americans are created equal under the law. Together, we believe that everyone deserves a fair shot at the American Dream and that our LGBT family members, friends, and neighbors deserve to be treated like everyone else in the United States,” Baldwin said. “This legislation is a reflection of our commitment to ending discrimination against our fellow citizens simply because of who they love. I am hopeful and optimistic that we can now move forward to build a tomorrow that is more equal, not less, for all Americans.”

 The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 would prohibit employers 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.

In a sign of the growing momentum to end discrimination against LGBT Americans, the Senate sponsors expect the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee to mark up the bill for the first time since 2002. This bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives, where the show of support has grown tremendously with over 150 original co-sponsors from both parties.