Residents of California may be interested to learn that Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat of Oregon, recently introduced a bill called Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would would prohibit employers from knowingly discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals when making decisions regarding hiring or promotion. A similar bill is pending in the United States House of Representatives. Senator Merkley’s bill would exempt religious organizations, companies with fewer than 15 employees and private clubs.

Many people may be surprised to learn that there is not already a federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The United States Congress has enacted laws against race discrimination, age discrimination, disability discrimination and religious discrimination. LGBT workers are protected against discrimination in employment in some states, but 29 of the 50 states do not have statutes that specifically address whether a person can be fired or not hired because of being gay or transgender.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law reports that data and anecdotal evidence shows that LGBT workers have been treated unfairly in terms of work opportunities over the last four decades. This discrimination significantly impacts their income and quality of life.

Until the Employment Non-Discrimination Act becomes law, LGBT workers who believe that their qualifications have been overlooked because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender should seek legal counsel. LGBT workers who have been terminated may also need to talk to an attorney. The best way to deal with such situations may depend on the state in which the LGBT worker lives, as well as other factors.

Source: Bloomberg View, “The End to Workplace Discrimination Against Gays,” April 24, 2013