The Executive Order and You

I work for a local social service agency and read about President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT workers. What does this mean for me?

In a needed step toward equality, President Obama’s historic executive order in July bans employment discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors and protects transgender federal government employees. The order will provide explicit protection against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination for millions of hard-working, tax-paying Americans, and Lambda Legal applauds Obama for taking this important action.
The reason the order is so important is that federal job discrimination statutes don’t explicitly use the words sexual orientation or gender identity. In states that don’t provide separate legal protections, workers are vulnerable to discrimination. With a stroke of his pen, the president changed the legal landscape for employees of federal contractors, not only in states without LGBT-specific protections, but also in states that already have good nondiscrimination statutes. That’s because, to use a football analogy, discrimination now doesn’t result in just a penalty -- it could get a contractor tossed out of the game.
One of the major advancements of equality in the executive order is that it also will make explicit the protection against gender identity discrimination for federal government employees. This will clarify that Executive Branch policies are consistent with federal court decisions and the position of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Clarity and consistency about nondiscrimination requirements are crucial. It is important that employees have a policy and remedy in place protecting them when they endure discrimination, but what we all really want is for the discrimination not to occur in the first place, and the executive order’s clear language furthers that goal.
Unfortunately, the order does not protect all employees of private companies and businesses, and explicit protections for LGBT workers in the private sector vary from state to state. Although we have increasing recognition and obvious momentum toward nationwide workplace fairness, there is still a ways to go. Over the last several years, the EEOC has ruled that employees alleging anti-LGBT discrimination had legitimate Title VII sex discrimination claims; similar rulings have come from federal district courts in cases involving lesbian or gay workers, and from numerous federal district and appellate courts in cases brought by transgender workers. Additionally, 18 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 200 jurisdictions ­ from small towns to large cities have inclusive non-discrimination laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
In the meantime, we are deeply grateful to the president for continuing his administration’s progress toward full equality for LGBT workers. Lambda Legal will continue to fight to expand protections for LGBT employees across the country.
If you have any questions or feel you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 866-542-8336 or Lambda Legal.
Greg Nevins is counsel for Lambda Legal, the national organization that works to secure full civil rights for LGBT people.
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