May 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Senate committee agrees to hold hearing on ENDA

Sens. Jeff Merkley (left) and Mark Kirk are calling for Senate hearings on ENDA (Blade file photo by MIchael Key)

A Senate committee chair has agreed to hold a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act following calls for lawmakers to hear testimony on anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

In a statement issued last week, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, announced he intends to hold a hearing on ENDA on June 12.

“Every American deserves an equal opportunity to earn a good living, judged by their talent, ability and qualifications free from discrimination,” Harkin said. “Workplace discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity is reprehensible and has no place in our nation.”

Harkin continued, “This upcoming HELP Committee hearing will provide an excellent opportunity to build on the Committee’s previous work and help advance our shared goal of equal rights for all Americans. I am hopeful that working together, we will reach a point where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons enjoy the same rights and protections, and full equality, as all our fellow Americans.”

According to the statement, further details about the hearing will be made public at a later time. Justine Sessions, a HELP committee spokesperson, said she doesn’t have information yet on witnesses.

The hearing could be the first opportunity for a transgender witness to testify before the Senate on LGBT workplace discrimination. In 2009, the committee held a hearing on ENDA, but no testimony came from a transgender witness. Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, testified on behalf of the Obama administration in favor of ENDA.

The announcement follows growing calls for a hearing on ENDA. In a letter dated May 9, Merkley, the lead sponsor of ENDA in the Senate, as well as co-sponsors Mark Kirk (R-Ill), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) call for the committee to hold a hearing.

“As strong supporters of this legislation, we urge you to schedule a time for Committee members to consider this proposed legislation,” the senators write. “ENDA embodies the American ideal of fairness: employees should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace, and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, joined the senators in a statement calling for the hearing on the same day.

“What matters in the workplace is how you do your job but unfortunately no federal law bans workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Solmonese said. “We encourage the Senate HELP Committee to schedule a hearing on this critical bill.”

The Washington Blade reported in March that LGBT advocates were pushing for a Senate hearing on ENDA as well as a markup of the legislation to move it to the Senate floor. All Democrats on the panel are co-sponsors of the bill — in addition as Kirk — so the committee would almost certainly be able to report out the legislation to the floor.

The full text of the letter from the senators follows:

May 9, 2012

The Honorable Tom Harkin
U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee

The Honorable Michael B. Enzi
Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee

Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Enzi:

We respectfully request that the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hold a legislative hearing to examine employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans to take testimony and consider acting on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S. 811).

As you know, employment discrimination has profound effects on the wages, job opportunities, productivity, and health of LGBT workers. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) takes a balanced approach to ending workplace discrimination against the LGBT community. Specifically, ENDA would prohibit most workplaces in the United States, with exemptions for religious institutions, private membership clubs and certain small businesses, from discriminating against potential and existing employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As strong supporters of this legislation, we urge you to schedule a time for Committee members to consider this proposed legislation.

ENDA embodies the American ideal of fairness: employees should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace, and not on their sexual orientation or gender identity. While some states prohibit public and private employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, recent studies have found evidence of continued widespread employment discrimination against LGBT people. Sadly, it is still legal for businesses in many states to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We appreciate your past support for discussing this critical issue for millions of American workers, and we respectfully ask that you ensure an opportunity during this Congress for the full Committee to consider testimony on this bill.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • God please past this. I has been an uphille battle for me on my Federal Job because there is a no-discrimination policy in effect for hiring, but not once you get in, not for healt care coverage of my medical condition (Explicitly caled out as an exclusion) , but if I get obeese then they can provide surgery for that, and all of the related health care. The onyl way a federal Employee can get treatment is to be incarcerated in a Federal Prison.

  • They should have pursued this last session when they actually had the votes to pass it. Instead, they were too focused on DADT. I believe prioritizing DADT over ENDA has done a major disservice to the gay rights movement. DADT was already being repealed through the courts. ENDA, on the contrary, cannot come from the courts and is completely dependent on a Democrat-controlled congress to pass it.

  • I didn’t know the Senate had had a hearing on this in 2009.

  • Hey a Republican from my state doing something for us! But this is still unfair. Religious institutions continue to get special treatment such as tax breaks but get to discriminate.

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