08.05.09

Statement On The Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Our Nation has a proud history of diversity and a commitment to justice and equal rights for all Americans.  The promise of equal rights is a foundational freedom of our democracy.  Today we re-introduce important legislation to protect Americans from discrimination in the workplace.  I am proud to again cosponsor the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and I thank Senators Kennedy, Collins and Merkley for their leadership and commitment to an issue that has practical significance in the daily lives of millions of our fellow Americans.   
 
American workers should be evaluated on the basis of how they perform, not on irrelevant considerations, such as their race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.  It is a question of fundamental fairness.  In these difficult economic times, I can think of nothing more fundamental than equality in the workplace.
 
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act would prohibit workplace discrimination by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote employees simply based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  Currently, Federal law protects against employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin or disability, but not sexual orientation or gender identity.  It is long overdue for Congress to extend these protections to American workers.
 
Senator Kennedy introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in previous sessions of Congress, and with his leadership, it has consistently maintained strong bipartisan support.  Unfortunately, partisan politics have prevented passage of the measure.  It goes against our country’s basic values to fire someone based on who they are or what they look like, and we should not tolerate discrimination in the workplace.  I hope that this year Congress will have the ability to finally pass this straightforward civil rights measure.
 
My home state of Vermont has played a constructive role in America’s journey to build a more just society.  Vermont added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories in its anti-discrimination in employment law in 1992, and added gender identity protection in 2007.  Twenty-one other states have also taken the lead to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, with 13 of those states also banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity.  But it is clear that more still needs to be done.  In 30 states, it remains legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation and in 38 states, to do so based on gender identity.  Americans’ civil rights should be protected no matter where they live, which is why I am proud to once again cosponsor this bill, as I have every time it has been introduced in the Senate.  I believe the passage of this legislation is long overdue and it is a step in the right direction toward creating equality in the workplace.
 
I urge my fellow Senators to come together to support this important, bipartisan bill without further delay.   

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