Q&A with Charlie Plumb
Federal bill would widen classes protected against discrimination
Q: What is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act?
A: ENDA is a bill presently being debated in the U.S. Senate, which would prohibit employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As proposed, the discrimination prohibition would apply to all aspects of the employment relationship, including hiring, firing and harassment. Congressional efforts to pass legislation of this type first began in 1994. Most commentators anticipate the U.S. Senate will pass the bill within the next week to 10 days, but expect opposition for ENDA in the House of Representatives.
Q: Doesn't current federal law already prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?
A: No. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based upon an individual's gender. For example, favoring a male employee over a similarly qualified female employee for a promotion based on the person's gender is considered discriminatory. There have been some isolated instances where courts have recognized an employee's claim they were treated unfairly based upon sexual stereotype — for example, female employees who were treated less favorably by their employers because they were “not sufficiently feminine.” However, the law doesn't protect individuals who are discriminated against on the basis of their sexual preference or gender identity.
Q: What does Oklahoma law say on the subject?
A: At the present time, about 21 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination in the workplace based upon sexual orientation. Oklahoma isn't one of those states. Individual employers, however, may establish their own nondiscrimination policies. In fact, two of the state's largest employers — the cities of Oklahoma City and Tulsa — already have taken up the issue and amended their employment nondiscrimination policies to protect their own city employees against sexual orientation discrimination.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER