The country may be in store for a new federal civil rights act, this one protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees from employment discrimination. Monday, U.S. Senate member voted to begin debate on the Employment nondiscrimination Act, also known as ENDA. A vote on whether or not to pass the law could happen as soon as later this week. If passed, the law would outlaw sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination nationwide, including in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The law is a resurrected and expanded version of a 1996 measure. This measure expands the classes protected from employment discrimination to include those with unconventional gender identities.
This federal law would provide broad national protections for LGBT employees in states where they do not currently receive protection. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, or NJLAD, already provides legal recourse for discrimination on the basis of gender identity and affectional or actual sexual orientation. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania a city law called the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance provides similar protections. However, Pennsylvania as a whole lacks a state law against such discrimination. ENDA could provide that protection on a federal level, opening up the possibility of legal action against employers in Pennsylvania who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
EDNA appears to have crucial republican support in the Senate, more support than was anticipated. GOP members who voted in favor of opening up debates include noted Mormon Senator from Utah, Orrin Hatch. Senator Hatch, who opposes other pro-LGBT measures such as same-sex marriage, has gone on the record about ENDA this past July, saying “my tendency is to vote for the bill. I have concerns about it but I also think that the language in there is really good language.”
Republican opposition out of the Senate may destroy the bill’s prospects. Spokesman Michael Steel is worried about the consequences of adding more anti-discrimination laws for employers to trip over. He echoed the sentiments of House Speaker John Boehner by saying “this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small-business jobs.”
However, Senate support for the bill may reveal an evolving trend in some Republican circles that takes a slightly more progressive view as to what constitutes employment discrimination. “I think that it was Republican votes that made the difference tonight.” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, “and that is a strong signal. I also think that attitudes are changing very rapidly on gay rights issues, and we’re seeing every passing day more and more people have embraced equality.” Senator Collins was one of two Republican sponsors for the bill.
Proponents of the employment discrimination law ave been lobbying congress to have their voices heard, and Democrats have been advocating for its passage. ENDA even prompted President Barack Obama to make a statement. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who was recently sworn in to take the place of deceased New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, tweeted enthusiastically that he will support ENDA “absolutely, unequivocally, proudly with gusto & enthusiasm. I hope to make it my first ‘co-sponsor.’”
The House would need at least 20 Republican votes to pass the anti-discrimination law. Swartz Swidler, LLC, attorneys representing victims of employment discrimination in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, hope the bill will pass, so the doors of justice will open for the historically unprotected LGBT citizenry.
Swartz Swidler, LLC strongly supports the bill. Swartz Swidler, LLC is a law firm based in Cherry Hill, NJ which handles employment discrimination and other types of employment law matters in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States. If you belive you have been subject o employment discrimination, please call one of our employment attorneys today.