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The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) Moves Forward

NASW applauds the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for their vote today to move forward the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), S. 815. ENDA is currently positioned to receive a vote by the Senate, which would be the first time the chamber has voted on the legislation in 17 years.

During the serious economic down-turn in the United States, the unemployment rate has been decreasing across many socioeconomic groups. Once of the hardest hit unemployed groups is the transgender population. Whereas according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the general population is only experiencing an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, the unemployment rate for the transgender population is twice that at 16 percent. These figures suggest disparaging differences in employment practices in the workforce.

Under current federal law the following practices are defined as discriminatory: harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information, or age; retaliation against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in an investigation, or opposing discriminatory practices; employment decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions about the abilities, traits, or performance of individuals of a certain sex, race, age, religion, or ethnic group, or individuals with disabilities, or based on myths or assumptions about an individual’s genetic information. Yet it is clear that current laws do not protect all prospective, or current employees, equally.

Research demonstrates that lesbian gay, bisexual, and transgender employees experience harassment, discrimination, and negative employment performance reviews solely due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. For example, transgender individuals are reporting harassment (50 percent), inappropriate release of personal information (48 percent), inappropriate questions (41 percent), denied access to personal facilities (22 percent), and being victims of violence or  sexual assault (13 percent) within the workplace.

Currently, there is no federal law protecting individuals from job discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 17 states and the District of Columbia also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Many states, corporations, and municipalities have passed laws, regulations, and policies that ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

ENDA will ensure employees are judged on the quality of their work and not on personal identity, which is irrelevant to job performance. It embodies the American philosophy that employment decisions should be centered on a person’s qualifications and work ethic, rather than their perceived differences. NASW strongly urges the Senate to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

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