Bias Bill Raises Concern about Gender Identity

Article excerpt

DISCRIMINATION

At first blush, it seemed that big business was lending support to a bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Forty-six large companies, including such corporations as Cisco Systems, Coca-Cola, Marriott International, BP America and NCR, are backing the bill, and along with the vast majority of the Fortune 500, they already have inclusive employment practices in place.

But during a House hearing on the legislation in early September, the first business community opposition started to emerge. Employment lawyers raised concerns that it would create a new protected class for gender identity.

Mark Fahleson, an employment lawyer with the firm of Rembolt Ludtke in Lincoln, Nebraska, asserted that the definition was vague and too broad, allowing employees to declare a change in their gender identity at will-without giving the employer advance notice to prepare for such a change in the workplace. The bill requires that companies provide shower or dressing facilities to accommodate actual or perceived gender.

Even though most major employers welcome homosexuals, they are doing so through voluntary policies. A statute would codify a particular approach for companies to follow-and would burden small firms that don't have the HR and legal staffs to manage compliance, according to Fahleson.

"This would put into law definitions and procedures and remedial schemes that include litigation," Fahleson said after the hearing.

The measure has not been scheduled for further action by the House Education and Labor Committee. The bill also falls under the jurisdictions of the three other committees.

As it winds its way through Congress, advocates stress that the measure simply extends to homosexuals the same protections that have been put in place for women, minorities and ethnic groups the past 40 years. …