Senior Obama Justice Department Official: Employment Non-Discrimination Act a "Top Legislative Priority"

Senior Obama Justice Department Official: Employment Non-Discrimination Act a "Top Legislative Priority"

WASHINGTON, DC – Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez today stated that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a “top legislative priority” of the Obama Administration.  The remark came during a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing focused on the legislation.

Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, the chief Senate co-sponsor of ENDA, applauded the comment as a major endorsement of the Senate’s efforts to pass a fully inclusive version of the bill.

“Today, we took two important steps forward on ENDA.  First, we held the first Senate hearing on this bill in seven years – and the first ever Senate hearing on a fully inclusive version of the bill.  Second, the Obama Administration has made a major public statement in support of our efforts.  With the backing of the White House and growing support in the Senate and the House, I am optimistic that we can end discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.”

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 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.  The legislation was introduced earlier this year by Senators Merkley and Susan Collins (R-ME).

During testimony before the HELP Committee today, Perez said, “We have come too far in the struggle for equal justice under law to remain silent when our LGBT brothers and sisters are still being mistreated and ostracized for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with their skills and ability and everything to do with myths, stereotypes, and prejudice.  And for this reason, the passage of ENDA is a top legislative priority for the Obama Administration.”

“I am thrilled to have this outstanding endorsement of ENDA from the top civil rights lawyer in the Obama Administration,” said Merkley.  “More and more we are hearing from businesses, civic leaders and community groups that they stand behind ENDA because it is a matter of simple fairness that we allow every American the right to earn a living.  There is no equality of opportunity in America until there is equality of opportunity in employment.  Discrimination is simply wrong.”

ENDA currently has the support of 42 Senate cosponsors, including Merkley and Collins.  Other co-sponsors are:  Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin, HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, Senators Daniel Akaka (HI), Michael Bennet (CO), Jeff Bingaman (NM), Barbara Boxer (CA), Sherrod Brown (OH), Roland Burris (IL), Maria Cantwell (WA), Ben Cardin (MD), Bob Casey (PA), Chris Dodd (CT), Russ Feingold (WI), Diane Feinstein (CA), Al Franken (MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Daniel Inouye (HI), John Kerry (MA), Paul Kirk (MA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Herb Kohl (WI), Mary Landrieu (LA), Frank Lautenberg (NJ), Patrick Leahy (VT), Carl Levin (MI), Joe Lieberman (CT), Robert Menendez (NJ), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Patty Murray (WA), Jack Reed (RI), Bernie Sanders (VT), Chuck Schumer (NY), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Olympia Snowe (ME), Arlen Specter (PA), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Mark Udall (CO), Tom Udall (NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Ron Wyden (OR).