Several high-profile U.S. Senators have stepped forward in recent days to express their support for the expansion of federal anti-discrimination laws to provide protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These supporters include Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
This issue has been debated for years, but it took on increased significance just a few weeks ago when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act by a significant, and predictably partisan, margin. The Equality Act is designed in part to amend several civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to protect individuals from workplace discrimination and harassment based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Some proponents of the Equality Act describe it as a common-sense way to further the ability of all persons to enjoy a workplace free from harassment and discrimination. In contrast, some opponents of the Equality Act argue that it would infringe on the First Amendment rights of employers to the free exercise of religion and of expression.
While the Equality Act is expected to face a significant challenge getting through the Republican-controlled Senate, it has the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and numerous other politically powerful organizations. To move toward becoming a federal law, the Equality Act will first need to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it currently sits.
Even if the Equality Act does not become federal law under the current administration, the growing tide of similar state and local laws suggests that broader statutory protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is certainly on the horizon.
We will continue to monitor this issue closely. If you have questions about this or other Labor and Employment issues, contact Brian Kelly or another member of the Frantz Ward Labor and Employment Practice Group.