Virginian Gov. Bob McDonnell has issued an executive directive saying that discrimination based on sexual orientation in state employment will not be tolerated.
The directive, which is different from an executive order in that it cannot be similarly enforced, comes after state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli advised Virginia colleges and universities to strike any policies that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. It also comes after the governor failed to renew his predecessor’s executive order barring discrimination based on sexual orientation in all state employment decisions.
“Employment discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated by this administration,” says the directive. “Discrimination based on factors such as one’s sexual orientation or parental status violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.”
The directive issued March 10 appeared to countermand — at least in part — Cuccinelli’s advice to state universities and colleges. But it was not immediately clear whether McDonnell’s directive would legally trump Cuccinelli’s advice on the matter.
McDonnell’s directive was silent on the matter of discrimination against students based on sexual orientation.
Martin Kent, the governor’s chief of staff, explained the shift in a message to state employees.
“While the separation of powers doctrine precludes the governor from changing the Virginia Human Rights Act via executive order, he wants to be clear that discrimination in state employment will not be tolerated,” he said. “Independent agencies and state supported colleges and universities should likewise adopt a similar standard of conduct.”
In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said McDonnell’s directive was a step in the right direction, but noted that it’s insufficient to fully protect gay state employees.
“No one should be fooled by the governor’s directive,” he said. “While it is a positive step to acknowledge that employment discrimination is a challenge faced by LGBT Virginians, public employees remain vulnerable without an inclusive executive order or law passed by the legislature.”
Equality Virginia CEO Jon Blair also called the directive a “major positive step forward,” but expressed concern that it was silent on discrimination based on gender identity.
“Equality Virginia applauds his implementation of a ‘standard of conduct’ that recognizes that discrimination based on sexual orientation is unconstitutional and establishes a strict prohibition against such discrimination in the state workforce,” Blair said in a statement.
Saying that more work needs to be done, Blair urged McDonnell and state lawmakers to work with Equality Virginia to codify workplace protections for all LGBT state employees. He also called for legislation protecting Virginians from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.
“Equality Virginia sincerely hopes that the attorney general agrees that the governor’s action today is within his authority and that he will defend the governor’s enforcement of Executive Directive #1.”
David Lampo, vice president of the Log Cabin Republican Club of Virginia, also praised the governor’s intervention and called for the directive to be codified in law.
“This is certainly a step in the right direction and certainly puts some meat on the bones of his stated policy of employment non-discrimination,” Lampo said. “[Codifying this directive] is the only fair and just outcome to this controversy, and it would end once and for all the attorney general’s disgraceful attempts to intimidate state colleges and universities into dropping their entirely justified employment non-discrimination policies.”