Merkley Joins Victims of Employment Discrimination to Support Legislation Providing Protection for LGBT Employees

Merkley Joins Victims of Employment Discrimination to Support Legislation Providing Protection for LGBT Employees

First Senate Hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act Since 2002 Held Today

Washington, D.C. –
Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley joined several victims of employment discrimination today in support of bipartisan legislation to provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), introduced by Senator Merkley and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), would protect qualified, hardworking Americans from being fired, denied job opportunities, or otherwise discriminated against just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“There is simply no place in the workplace for discrimination,” said Senator Merkley.  “It is our duty to ensure that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, have the right to earn a living, and I am proud to join Diane, Mike, and Earline here today to highlight that job discrimination is still very much alive in America.  By passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, we can guarantee that the fundamental principles of equal justice and equal opportunity apply not to some, but to all Americans.”

“I support strengthening federal laws to protect American workers from discrimination.  Similar to the current law in several states, including Maine, and the policies of many Fortune 500 company, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would close an important gap in federal civil rights laws,” said Senator Collins.

Joining Senator Merkley today to share their experiences with workplace discrimination were Diane Schroer, a transgender woman and 25-year veteran of the U.S Army Special Forces from Illinois; Mike Carney, a gay police officer from Massachusetts; and Earline Budd, a transgender woman from Washington D.C. who suffered from discrimination in the workplace and has since become an outspoken advocate for transgender rights.

After retiring from the military, Diane interviewed for a position as a terrorism research analyst with the Library of Congress and was offered the job.  At the time, Diane was identifying publicly as David and had recently begun the process of transitioning from male to female.  After informing her future supervisor about the transition, Diane’s job offer was rescinded and she was told that she would not be a good fit.

“As someone who served this country for 25 years in the U.S. Army, I have always believed that the promise of America is that everyone will be judged on the basis of their merit and character.  Unfortunately, when I disclosed to a future employer that I am a transgender American, I found out the hard way that this promise doesn’t yet extend to everyone,” Schroer said.  “I’m here today supporting ENDA because I don’t want anyone else to experience the pain and frustration I went through when I was denied a job based not on my skills but because of who I am. Discrimination against gay and transgender people still exists in this country and it’s our responsibility to end it.”

During his first seven years serving as a police officer in Springfield, Massachusetts, Mike Carney suffered serious mental anguish caused by the personal and societal pressures of being a closeted gay man in a law enforcement community that wasn’t accepting of who he was.  He suffered humiliation and pain, eventually resigning from the job he loved. 

In 1991, Mike co-founded the Gay Officers Action League of New England, a support group for gay law enforcement officers.  After meeting hundreds of fellow gay officers and receiving the support he needed, Mike applied for reinstatement to his position in 1991.  This time, he disclosed that he was gay.  He was denied. Two and a half years after filing the first complaint of orientation discrimination ever against a law enforcement agency in Massachusetts, Mike won his case with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and returned to work as a Springfield police officer, where he continues to serve today.

“The fact that I’m gay doesn’t affect my job performance, but it continues to affect my employability in America,” Carney said.  “I love my job as a cop.  If I hadn’t lived in Massachusetts, or in one of the 12 other states and District of Columbia that protect GLBT people from discrimination, I wouldn’t have been able to get it back.  I’m proud to be here today to support ENDA and the fight to eliminate sexual orientation and gender identity as a barrier to equal employment.”

A native of Washington D.C., Earline Budd had a job in the early 1980’s that she had gotten based on the merit of her experience.  After being identified as transgendered in a newspaper article, she faced discrimination from her superiors at work that forced her to leave the organization.  Earline’s experience with discrimination has caused her great personal hardship.  She has since become an outspoken advocate for transgender rights and engages with transgender individuals for whom discrimination is a daily occurrence, impeding their ability to find work and participate in society.

“I have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects workplace discrimination can have,” Budd said.  “No one should have to face the hardship that comes with losing a job for no reason other than someone else not liking who you are.  The fact that ENDA includes protections for those discriminated against based on their gender identity is a huge step forward in achieving truly equal rights for transgender Americans.”

There is currently no federal law that consistently protects LGBT individuals from employment discrimination.  In fact, it remains legal in 29 states to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and in 38 states to do so based on gender identity or expression. 

ENDA is closely modeled on existing civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  It explicitly prohibits preferential treatment and quotas and does not permit disparate impact suits.  In addition, the bill exempts small businesses with fewer than 15 employees, religious organizations and the military, and does not require that domestic partner benefits be provided to the same-sex partners of employees.

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 National Center for Transgender Equality, the ACLU, labor organizations and more than 60 Fortune 500 companies.