ENDA Promises to Ban Employment Discrimination for Gays

Article excerpt

A recent review of 20 surveys conducted across the country between 1980 and 1994 shows that between 16% and 44% of gay and lesbian respondents felt that they faced some kind of discrimination in employment, generally in the areas of hiring, firing, harassment, evaluation or promotion (U.S. Newswire). In a 1987 Wall Street Journal poll of Fortune 500 chief executives, 66% of the CEOs indicated that they would hesitate to give a management job to a homosexual person.

Do the gays and lesbians suffering this discrimination have legal recourse? No. Currently, it's perfectly legal to fire, demote or refuse to hire a person based on nothing more than his or her sexual orientation--there is no Federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals in the workplace based on sexual orientation.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA--Senate 2238, House 4636), currently being debated by the U.S. Congress, would give gays, bisexuals and lesbians legal recourse to fight against employment-and workplace-related discrimination.

Here's a brief run-down of the Act's contents:

* The core of ENDA prohibits an employer with 15 or more employees from using an individual's sexual orientation in making employment decisions, stressing that sexual orientation has no bearing on one's ability to contribute to the economic needs of society.

* The bill also provides for meaningful and effective remedies for such discrimination, including reinstatement and punitive damages.

* Section three of the bill protects against discrimination based on the sexual orientation of one's associates, while section four states that application of ENDA does not cover domestic-partner benefits.

* Under ENDA, employers are expressly forbidden from implementing affirmative action programs or using quota or goal systems based on sexual orientation.

* ENDA exempts religious organizations from the bill completely. However, church-run businesses are subject to ENDA regulations.

* The bill doesn't affect current law on homosexuals and bisexuals in the military---that issue is being dealt with by other acts of Congress.

* The requirement of filing claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the right of an individual to bring a private suit and the ability of an individual to receive injunctive relief and damages, up to the limits authorized by Title VII, are incorporated in Section nine. States can't claim immunity under the 11th Amendment of the Constitution.

* Section 17 deals with what many consider a troublesome issue. It states that the Act shall take effect 60 days after the date of enactment. This gives the employer the opportunity to purge the organization's ranks of all homosexual employees. The concern here, however, is likely unwarranted, because many homosexuals will certainly stay "in the closet" for the 60 days until the Act takes effect

A diverse network of groups supports ENDA, Support for ENDA comes from a broad range of political, business, labor and civil rights groups.

* Political support begins with ENDA's chief sponsor, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. At present, Senator Kennedy is joined by 146 Congressional co-sponsors, with 30 Senators and 116 Representatives officially lending their support to the bill. Of the 146 sponsors, 136 are Democrats, nine are Republicans and one is Independent, showing the partisan political nature of the bill's support--a potential stumbling block to ENDA's enactment.

* In addition, President Clinton has stated that should Congress pass ENDA, he will sign it into law. Thus, even though the President is not actively campaigning for ENDA, his declared agreement with the aims of the bill is a major source of support for the bill's sponsors.

* ENDA has received endorsements from major corporations, including Xerox, Bankers Trust, Harley Davidson, Honeywell, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, Dow Jones, RJR Nabisco and AT&T. …