Most people have several experiences with getting hired, promoted, or even fired from a job during their lifetime. Because of this, various federal and state laws have been passed in order to protect employees from facing discrimination during routine employment procedures. Despite the seemingly broad reach of both state and federal legislation, there are certain categories of discrimination that are notoriously absent from protection. Sexual orientation and gender identity are two of them. Currently, in 29 states, it is perfectly legal to fire, refuse to hire, or promote someone on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. The same can be said about 33 states regarding gender identity protections- in those states, workplace discrimination on the grounds of gender identity are allowed by law. Connecticut is one of the few states that presently offers protection against discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.
There are numerous federal laws that, at present, protect employees from facing discrimination in the workplace. The most sweeping of these protections is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Further, federal laws currently exist that protect employees from discrimination on the basis of age, disability status, and genetic information.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency tasked with administering these laws, as well as adjudicating complaints made against employers. In addition to federal laws, 47 states have their own agencies tasked solely with adjudicating employment discrimination claims under relevant state law, as well as assisting and referring with claims made under federal law. In Connecticut, the state agency that handles discrimination claims is the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). Anyone who feels that their rights have been violated at work; whether through hiring or termination procedures, harassment, retaliation, or denial of opportunities for advancement- can file a complaint with their appropriate state agency or the EEOC within 180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination.
Currently in Congress, there is a proposed measure to provide nation-wide protection against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, entitled the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). On November 4, 2013, ENDA cleared a major procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate, garnering both Democratic and Republican support in order for it to pass the Senate three days later. Currently, the bill has been sent to the House of Representatives, where it will stay pending until the Speaker of the House decides to call it to the House floor for a vote. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this will happen during the 2014 legislative session. Despite this bleak outlook, there is an opportunity for President Obama to issue an executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity for all federal contractors. This would represent a significant step towards achieving a discrimination-free workplace for all.
Kaitlyn Fydenkevez is a legal intern at CWEALF, and a second year law student at the University of Connecticut School of Law. You can read more from her at kaitlynfydenkevez.com/blog/.