A few details may have gotten lost in all the hoopla surrounding the executive orders President Obama signed last month prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. So here’s some info from Lambda Legal that may help clear up some questions:
By Greg Nevins, counsel for Lambda Legal
Question: I work for a local social service agency and read about President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT workers. What does this mean for me?
Answer: President Obama’s historic executive order banning employment discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors and protecting transgender federal government employees was a needed step towards equality.
The executive order will provide explicit protection against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination for millions of hard-working, tax-paying Americans, and Lambda Legal applauds President Obama for taking this important action.
The order is very important because federal statutes concerning job discrimination don’t explicitly use the words “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.” This leaves vulnerable to discrimination those workers in states that don’t provide separate legal protections.
With a stroke of his pen, the president changed the legal landscape for employees of federal contractors, especially those in states without LGBT-specific protections, but also for those workers in states that already have good non-discrimination statutes, because, to use a football analogy, discrimination now doesn’t result in just a penalty but may get a contractor tossed out of the game.
One of the major advancements of equality contained in the executive order is that it also will make explicit the protection against gender identity discrimination for federal government employees. This will clarify that executive branch policies are consistent with federal court decisions and the position of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Clarity and consistency about non-discrimination requirements are crucial. It is important that employees have a policy and remedy in place that protects them when they endure discrimination. But what we all really want is for the discrimination not to occur in the first place, and the executive order’s clear language furthers that goal.
Unfortunately, the order does not protect all employees of private companies and businesses, and explicit protections for LGBT workers in the private sector vary from state to state. We have increasing recognition and obvious momentum towards nationwide workplace fairness, but there is still a ways to go.
Over the last several years, the EEOC has ruled that employees alleging anti-LGBT discrimination had legitimate Title VII sex discrimination claims; similar rulings have come from federal district courts in cases involving lesbian or gay workers, and from numerous federal district and appellate courts in cases brought by transgender workers.
Additionally, 18 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 200 jurisdictions — from small towns to large cities — have inclusive non-discrimination laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
In the meantime, we are deeply grateful to President Obama for continuing his administration’s progress toward full equality for LGBT workers, and Lambda Legal will continue to fight to expand protections for LGBT employees across the country.
If you have any questions, or feel you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk by calling 1-866-542-8336 go online to www.lambdalegal.org/help.