On June 16, 2014, White House officials announced President Obama’s intentions to draft an executive order banning discrimination against all employees of federal contractors and subcontractors on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. While LGBT employees in California are already protected by state laws against discrimination, this order would give additional rights to approximately 28 million employees across the country.
ENDA at a Standstill
Many people believe that Obama’s executive order is in response to the inaction Congress has taken regarding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA would protect all LGBT employees in both public and private workplaces with 15 or more employees from discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The Act has been repeatedly proposed in Congress since 1994. In 2013, the latest version of the bill passed in the Senate but has yet to be brought to a vote in the House of Representatives. President Obama has been criticized by civil rights organizations for failing to take the issue up in an executive order since Congress has stalled the issue.
Though President Obama issued the executive order regarding LGBT federal contractors, the White House officials did not specifically state that he would sign it into law. Instead, political pundits predict the announcement was meant to inspire Congress into action regarding ENDA, which has a much wider scope in that it applies to all types of employees.
The action seems to have worked in part, as U.S. House Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA) issued a call to action for the House Majority leader regarding ENDA. Thompson stated that while the President’s executive order was an “important step” toward equality, he acknowledged that it would only protect a select group of LGBT employees. Thompson urged the House of Representatives to call a vote on ENDA in order to provide protections for employees in “all workplaces.”
Whether or not Congress decides to act on ENDA is yet to be seen. In the meantime, the President has the option to sign his executive order into law to at least protect approximately one in five LGBT employees. President Obama also designated June as LGBT Pride month in the U.S. and will speak at the DNC LGBT Gala this week.
Other LGBT Workplace News
The announcement came just before the Justice Department is expected to release its report on how the landmark decision in United States v. Windsor should be applied in a wide variety of situations regarding LGBT couples. Many of these situations, such as federal benefits and health insurance, may affect LGBT employees. In light of the news from President Obama and the Justice Department, employers across the United States may have to adapt their policies and procedures with respect to the rights of LGBT employees and their spouses.