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Filed under: ENDA

Equality news round-up: majority support for marriage equality in Virginia, update in Michigan marriage lawsuit

By Scottie Thomaston

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks with reporters after a weekly Democratic strategy session, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks with reporters after a weekly Democratic strategy session, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

– A new poll says 55% of Virginians support marriage equality. The poll results are similar to a Washington Post poll conducted in May.

– The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed out of committee this week and onto the Senate floor. Senator Harkin says he believes there are 60 votes for passage. Now, two Democratic reps are calling for a House hearing on the bill.

– Ari Ezra Waldman writes at Towleroad about Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in United States v. Windsor.

– EqualityOnTrial recently reported that the legal challenge to Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage will be argued in federal court on October 1. The scheduling order is here. The defendants have ten days to file answers to the amended complaint (the complaint was initially only a challenge to the state’s adoption ban, but was amended to include a challenge to the marriage ban as well) and motions for summary judgment are due August 14. (h/t Kathleen Perrin, as always, for this filing)

1 Comment July 12, 2013

Updated: ENDA advances to Senate floor in HELP committee vote

By Jacob Combs

Update (11:15 a.m. Eastern): The HELP committee has voted 15-7 to advance ENDA to the Senate floor.  Republican Sens. Kirk, Hatch and Murkowski all voted in favor of the bill.

Original story (11:00 a.m. Eastern): The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee is scheduled to vote today on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would make it illegal to base hiring or firing decisions on an individuals’ sexual orientation or gender identity.  Even though all 12 Democrats on the committee are expected to vote to advance the measure to the full Senate, LGBT advocates aren’t sitting back on their heels, as the Huffington Post reports:

With a Senate committee set to vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on Wednesday, supporters are focusing these final hours on convincing a few additional Republicans to join Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and the 12 committee Democrats, giving the measure a strong bipartisan backing.

Tico Almeida, founder of Freedom to Work, an organization dedicated to banning workplace harassment and discrimination against LGBT individuals, identified several possible Republican supporters on Monday. Almeida named Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as potential backers, along with Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Yesterday, Hatch told the Huffington Post, “My tendency is to vote for the bill.”  Alexander said he has no plans to vote for it, while Murkowski was noncommittal.  Burr is not expected to vote in favor of ENDA, and one LGBT advocate involved in the effort to bring on additional senators said the North Carolina legislator may skip the committee meeting today in order to avoid taking a stand either for or against ENDA.

As the Huffington Post notes, the Human Rights Campaign has also been heavily involved in the legislative effort, delivering over 12,000 constituents postcards, emails and phone calls to Burr, Hatch and Murkowski.

Today, in a news release, American Airlines, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, reiterated its support for ENDA:

On behalf of our 80,000 employees, American Airlines is proud to express our strong support for S. 811 and H.R. 1397, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would extend basic job protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. We are proud to have been the first major airline to implement same-sex domestic partner benefits, first to implement both sexual orientation and gender identity in our workplace non-discrimination policies, and first to have a recognized LGBT employee resource group – GLEAM.

American became the first airline to back the bill when it sponsored similar drafts in 2008 and 2009.

We’ll report the results of the ENDA vote today here at EqualityOnTrial as they occur.

1 Comment July 10, 2013

Illinois will investigate claims of anti-gay discrimination in ExxonMobil’s hiring practices

By Jacob Combs

AP file photo
AP file photo

Illinois state officials will investigate ExxonMobil’s hiring practices to see if the company discriminates against gay applicants in light of a civil rights complaint filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights in May by the LGBT advocacy group Freedom to Work.  BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner has more:

The Illinois Department of Human Rights has accepted Freedom to Work’s complaint of employment discrimination against ExxonMobil, the first known time an LGBT group has used a ‘tester’ case — in which a group submits similar applications from fictitious applicants who only differ in the relevant characteristic being tested — in an organizational lawsuit.

“Freedom to Work decided to take a successful strategy from the playbook of African-American civil rights leaders by employing matched-pair employment testing at Exxon and other federal contractors that lack LGBT workplace protections,” Freedom to Work president Tico Almeida told BuzzFeed. “We very quickly found evidence that Exxon has given unfair hiring preference to some lower qualified straight applicants over more qualified LGBT applicants.”

As we wrote when Freedom to Work filed its complaint in May, ExxonMobil remains one of the few Fortune 500 companies without an LGBT non-discrimination policy; the oil company received a score of -25 in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2013 Corporate Equality Index.  The week after the group’s complaint was filed, ExxonMobil’s shareholders voted against adopting a non-discrimination policy at their annual meeting.  Only 12 percent of Fortune 500 companies do not have such a policy.

As Geidner points out, the Illinois Department of Human Rights’s investigation will focus on four areas:

It will look at whether ExxonMobil exercises unequal terms and conditions of employment due to sexual orientation and whether it does so due to perceived sexual orientation, as well as investigating whether ExxonMobil failed to hire due to sexual orientation and whether it did so due to perceived sexual orientation. It will be looking to find if there is “substantial evidence” for any of the charges, at which point it would seek conciliation with ExxonMobil or the case could proceed to court.

As the ExxonMobil investigation gears up, Freedom to Work is also pushing hard to advance the Employment Non-Discrimation Act (ENDA), which would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity across the U.S.  Later today, the group will hold a press call detailing their efforts to lobby North Carolina Senator Richard Burr to support the legislation.  The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee is due to vote on ENDA tomorrow.

1 Comment July 9, 2013

Equality news round-up: Majority support for marriage equality, Supreme Court’s DOMA and Prop 8 decisions, and more

By Scottie Thomaston

Capitol Hill
Capitol Hill

– According to a new poll, most Americans support the Supreme Court’s ruling in the DOMA case, by a 56-41% margin, and the decision in the Prop 8 case by a 51-45% margin.

– 55% of Americans think marriage equality should be legal.

– New Jersey Democrats are again asking Republicans to override Governor Christie’s veto of the state’s marriage equality bill.

– Therese Stewart, the lawyer for the City and County of San Francisco who made arguments in the Prop 8 case in the lower courts (that were ultimately adopted by the Ninth Circuit), recently talked about Justice Scalia’s dissent in United States v. Windsor, in which he says the majority opinion will lead to marriage in all 50 states.

– A Senate committee will vote on the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) on July 10.

– More on the proposed White House executive order preventing discrimination against LGBT federal contractors.

July 3, 2013

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to Co-Sponsor ENDA

By Jacob CombsHarry Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will sign on as the 50th co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Huffington Post‘s Jennifer Bendery reported yesterday, giving the bill a big boost in advance of a possible vote later this year.  From the Huffington Post:

“No one should face discrimination in their workplace based on sexual orientation,” Reid said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “It’s time to make fairness the law of the land. That is why I am co-sponsoring this legislation and I will do everything I can to ensure that it passes the Senate.”

Reid’s announcement makes him the 50th cosponsor of ENDA. He said earlier this week that he expects it to reach the Senate floor “soon.”

Despite major advances for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community in the past couple of years — including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and lawmakers announcing support for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act — ENDA has stagnated. It’s been reintroduced in several sessions of Congress and has gotten some hearings, but it hasn’t had a vote on the House or Senate floor since November 2007, when it passed the House 235-184. It was introduced in this Congress by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) in the House, and by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate.

Sen. Reid has been supportive of ENDA in the past, but has generally taken the position that the majority leader should not co-sponsor bills.  Reid’s co-sponsorship of ENDA is an important move, keeping the bill in the news, raising its public visibility and getting it closer to the 60-vote threshold that will likely be necessary to overcome a Republican filibuster.

As Metro Weekly‘s Justin Snow reported, President Obama addressed LGBT equality last night during a Pride Month reception at the White House.  In his remarks, Obama underscored the importance of passing ENDA:

“In 34 states, you can be fired just because of who you are or who you love. That’s wrong. We’ve got to change it.  I want to sign that bill. We need to get it done now. And I think we can make that happen — because after the last four and a half years, you can’t tell me things can’t happen.”

The president made no mention of an ENDA executive order, which would ban federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  Obama has expressed support for the executive order in the past, although the White House has recently been silent on the matter.  The president could announce and sign such an order on any day.

June 14, 2013

Appeals court in Tennessee hears arguments in case challenging state’s removal of LGBT and other non-discrimination protections

By Scottie Thomaston

In Tennessee yesterday, a state court of appeals heard arguments in the challenge to HB600, nicknamed the Special Access to Discriminate (“SAD Act”) by equality organizations. The law stripped local governments in the state of their non-discrimination protections for LGBT Tennesseans. The challenge, argued by Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and joined by equality organizations including the Tennessee Equality Project and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, says the law violates the equal protection of the laws; it relies on both the state and United States constitutions.

In part the complaint is based on Romer v. Evans, the 1996 Supreme Court case, which held that Colorado couldn’t exclude gays and lesbians from all political protections. The state had passed a ballot initiative removing these protections from gays and lesbians alone. The amendment nullified existing non-discrimination provisions in two cities. The Court said this violated equal protection principles. As the complaint discussed, this amendment is broader than Colorado’s: it removes all protections for any groups not already covered under state law, which means it eliminates protections for people with disabilities as well. It also impairs anti-bullying measures, whether against LGBT people or those with disabilities.

The case is on appeal after it was dismissed by the trial court. The parties are arguing whether it should be reinstated. The Tennessean reported:

[…]Monday, attorney Shannon Minter with the San Francisco-based Center for Lesbian Rights told the three-judge appeals panel that there is “nothing like this in the country that specifically excludes one group of people.” She called the state law “a dangerous statute that warrants some judicious scrutiny.”

But Assistant Attorney General Adam Futrell said the state law, known as H.B. 600, merely clarified who could seek legal relief in workplace-related discrimination claims.

“The core issue,” Futrell said, “is none of the plaintiffs were hurt.” He called that point an “inescapable fact.”

Judge Holly Kirby questioned that line of reasoning.

“Let’s assume that the legislature defines ‘sex’ to only include the female gender,” Kirby asked. “Are you saying that male plaintiffs would not have standing to question the constitutionality of the law?”

Futrell responded that in such a case, plaintiffs would be legally protected, and that the law does not mean that gays and lesbians cannot seek legal relief in the event of discrimination. Instead, he said, the law standardizes workplace protections, preventing Tennessee from having an inconsistent patchwork of laws about workplace discrimination.

The appeals court will render a decision on whether the case will be retried in court on the merits. This case has the potential to be wide ranging eventually, the Tennessee law is so broad, wiping away all protections, that large numbers of minority groups are affected across the board. There’s a provision of the law that forbids Tennesseans from changing their sex on their birth certificate, meaning that whatever their doctor decides their sex is at birth is how they are forever identified for legal purposes, unless they move away to a state that allows the change.

TTPC, the transgender rights group involved in the case, issued a statement via Facebook:

Earlier today, attorney Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights presented the case for the plaintiffs in Howe v. Haslam. Most of the questions from the judges revolved around Section 2 of HB600 which, for the first time in the history of any state, defines “sex” based on a person’s original birth certificate. Minter argued that this clearly targets Tennessee’s transgender population for discrimination in the workplace since those born in Tennessee cannot change the gender on birth certificates. The three judge panel from the West Tennessee section appeared to be bothered by the targeting of a group by the state. We do not know when they will issue their ruling, but we were honored to be represented by such a talented team of attorneys today!

The decision could come at any time; there is no timeline. The case is called Howe v. Haslam.

3 Comments June 11, 2013

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