Can U.S. employees be fired for being gay? If the answer was “yes” before, it moved a lot closer to “no”, as President Obama recently signed a new executive order aimed at ending LGBT discrimination in the federal workplace.
Each month seems to bring a new headline in the ongoing effort to prevent employment discrimination against LGBT workers. Recently, a federal court suggested that LGBT job discrimination violates existing legislation. Now, President Obama’s order provides new support for federal employers identifying as transgender or gay.
“In too many states and in too many workplaces,” Obama said, “simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender can still be a fireable offense. I firmly believe it’s time to address this injustice for every American.”
Of course, the executive order doesn’t really address the problem for every American. Its application is limited primarily to federal contractors and employees. Still, the Administration projects that the order will impact approximately 24,000 companies nationwide.
President Obama’s order includes two primary directives:
• The first provision bans federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or sexual identity. It amends a 1965 directive that previously covered only race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
• The second provision explicitly bans discrimination against federal employees who identify as transgender. It updates President Nixon’s order of 1969, which President Clinton previously amended to include sexual orientation in 1998.
The first provision is expected to take effect in early 2015 and will apply to roughly 28 million American employees (about one-fifth of the overall workforce). The second provision goes into immediate effect.
Notably, Obama left intact President George W. Bush’s 2002 amendment to the Nixon order, which allowed federal contractors to prioritize hiring employees who share the contractor’s religious beliefs.
The most recent executive order represents a fascinating development for those of us with an eye on federal employment discrimination law.
Of course, at the state level, few local legislatures have acted to address LGBT job discrimination. While recent court and EEOC rulings have provided employment law attorneys with additional support for their arguments against wrongful termination based on sexual orientation and identity, the issue has hardly been resolved.
Perhaps that’s why President Obama included in his remarks a request for Congress to take action on federal legislation that would prohibit LGBT job discrimination nationwide.