I’ve been covering labor issues for a long time but yesterday I realized how much I still have to learn about worker rights.
I wrote a story about a gay man who claims he was fired from the Library of Congress after his employer found out his was gay, and during the research of the story I came across a disturbing reality. If indeed they fired this guy because he was gay, he has little to no recourse to fight the action.
Why? Because sexual orientation is largely not a protected category in the workplace, either the government workplace or the private sector. I knew their rights were limited, but I didn’t realize how limited. The lawyer in the Library of Congress’ case said he’s going to fight the case based on religious discrimination, which is clearly covered under labor laws, but he’s not going to push the sexual orientation issue because it would get his client no remedy for the injustice he alleges.
Since the Library of Congress is part of the federal government I found this even more shocking because that would mean the government can basically discriminate against gay workers.
When I asked a spokeswoman at the library about the case, she offered this in a statement:
“Library of Congress employees, like all employees in the federal government, have protection against workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.”
Well folks, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not cover sexual orientation. It only “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”
When I got off the phone I called one of the top labor law firms that focuses on government workers, Tully Rinckey, to find out for sure what rights gay workers had. Alas, the news was grim for government and private sector employees.
Turns out a partner at the firm has been on a crusade of sorts amend to add protections for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, or GLBT, community.
“The federally recognized birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. presents the perfect opportunity to create awareness about this under-served group of Americans,” said John P. Mahoney, a partner at Tully Rinckey, said a while back. “Congress recently took the first step in prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination federally by repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ I commend their actions and ask lawmakers to take this next logical step by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in federal and private sector employment.“
He pointed out that:
Several states and the District of Columbia have outlawed sexual orientation discrimination. However, the federal Civil Rights Acts do not prohibit this type of discrimination, which means that members of the GLBT community are not provided Equal Protection of the Laws, Mahoney said. That legal loophole would be fixed by amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination on the federal level.
Mahoney is calling for a Civil Rights Act of 2013 that would amend the act as we know it.
There is also pending legislation in Congress that would end such bias called Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, but it’s unclear what the fate of it will be. Unfortunately, even with an administration that has often said it champions gay rights, little has changed.
Just yesterday the White House put the kibosh on a move by legislators to help the GLBT community in the workplace.
The administration says it supports ENDA, but it wouldn’t get behind a move that would have sped up the process in one area of employment. the This from a Washington Post article:
Seventy-two members of Congress asked President Obama to issue an executive order banning sexual orientation discrimination by federal contractors, but the White House said not now.
There’s been a lot of “not now” when it comes to this issue. But if not now, when?