The Williams Institute's Executive Director Brad Sears and Distinguished Scholar Gary Gates (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
The issue of marriage rights for same sex couples has dominated our national conversation since Karl Rove used antigay initiatives to drive evangelicals to the ballot box for George W. Bush's re-election in 2004. The Prop 8 wars and the recent victories and ballot referendums in a number of states since then have lead many to believe that marriage equality is the top priority for LGBT people.
The reality is that the top priority for many LGBT Americans is finding and securing a job, especially one with discrimination protections based on gender identity, as well as sexual orientation. The question about the status of the languishing Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) surfaced in early January when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) won a $155,000 settlement against DynCorp International LLC, a military contractor and aircraft maintenance company, based in a sex-based workplace discrimination case. After considerable pressure lead by Tico Almeida, a civil rights attorney and founder of Freedom to Work who started the petition signed by 50,000 people on Change.org, DynCorp added sexual orientation and gender identity to its workplace non-discrimination policies.
"It's terrific that DynCorp has moved to protect its LGBT employees, but let's also remember that dozens of other government contractors do not protect their workers from anti-LGBT harassment and discrimination," Almeida said in a press release. "An executive order outlawing discrimination at federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is sitting at the White House. President Obama should take this opportunity, in the wake of DynCorp's decision, to make sure that no government contractor uses taxpayer money to fund anti-LGBT harassment or discrimination."
The news that an ENDA-like bill was "sitting at the White House" prompted a new petition to Obama – and a number of stories: I criticized Obama for not including the need for ENDA in his State of the Union address; Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly wrote “From Partner Benefits to Affirmative Action, Proposed Contractor Executive Order Specifics Discussed;” and The Williams Institute's M.V. Lee Badgett wrote an op-ed for the New York Times: "What Obama Should Do About Workplace Discrimination."
Wednesday night, Feb. 22, from 6:15-8:00pm The Williams Institute and the City of West Hollywood are presenting an important panel discussion on the topic: "What Happened to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)” in the Community Room at the New West Hollywood Library, 625 N. San Vicente Boulevard. (Free validated parking at the parking structure on El Tovar Place off Robertson Boulevard in between Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica Blvd).
The Williams Institute speakers are: Christy Mallory, Legal Research Fellow; Ilan H. Meyer
, Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy; Jennifer C. Pizer
, Legal Director and Arnold D. Kassoy Senior Scholar of Law; and Brad Sears
, Assistant Dean & Executive Director, Roberta A. Conroy Scholar of Law and Policy. Freedom to Work's
Tico Almeida will also be there but is not an "official" speaker.
Much of the discussion will focus on a new study by Mallory. Here's a quick brief from The Williams Institute:
Local ordinances that require city and county contractors to prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination protect thousands of workers without burdening governments or businesses, according to a new study from the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute.
"This study provides evidence that a federal executive order that similarly barred discrimination could protect millions of workers while not overburdening federal contractors or the U.S. government," said the study's co-author, Christy Mallory, Legal Fellow, Williams Institute.
Currently, only 21 states and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation or gender identity in their statewide non-discrimination laws, and no federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the private sector. A federal executive order that prohibited such discrimination could protect up to 16.5 million workers.
The local governments in the study reported widespread compliance among contractors and very little, if any, resistance to adopting LGBT-related employment policies. Further, no locality reported that any employees had filed complaints of sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination after the policies were implemented.
"Their responses indicate businesses were willing to adopt these policies in order to contract with cities like Raleigh and Indianapolis," said Mallory. She continued, "This demonstrates that contractors accept the possibility of government enforcement, even when no state law imposes similar requirements."
The survey responses also indicate that the laws are not burdensome or costly for the agencies to implement and enforce. No locality reported that it had to hire additional staff to enforce these ordinances, or that there was any cost associated in adding sexual orientation and gender identity to existing non-discrimination policies and practices.
"Our analysis shows that concerns about these laws have not been born out," said Brad Sears, Roberta A. Conroy Senior Scholar of Law & Policy and Williams Institute Executive Director, "the agencies reported no disruption to the contracting process as a result of passing these ordinances--for themselves or their contractors. In short, its business as usual after a locality has decided to add these protections for LGBT people."
The study evaluated data from 29 city and county government agencies that require local government contractors to adopt sexual orientation and gender identity employment non-discrimination policies. Some cities and counties also require local government contractors to take further steps to protect LGBT workers, such as posting inclusive Equal Employment opportunity policies, training managers and employees to prevent harassment and discrimination, and including the LGBT community in outreach and recruitment efforts.
For more information about this study, please .