Fairness at work: All employees deserve protection from bias

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Last month, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and effectively shattered California's Proposition 8, allowing same-sex couples in that state to resume getting married. But workplace discrimination is a reminder that Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered still face barriers to opportunities.

Although federal law bans employment discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity, age and disability, it does not prohibit bias due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Some states have laws that provide such protection, but Pennsylvania is among 29 states where employees who are gay or transgendered are not shielded.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a federal bill that would protect such employees from workplace harassment or firing. Religious employers, such as houses of worship and parochial schools, would be exempt.

Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is a co-sponsor of ENDA, which passed July 10 by a vote of 15-7 in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Only three Republicans voted in favor. After the vote, Mr. Casey said in a prepared statement that "employees should be judged on their skills and abilities in the workplace, and not their sexual orientation or gender identity."

Although ENDA has 53 co-sponsors in the Senate and 177 in the House, it's not the first time it's been proposed. Such a bill has been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994. The majority of sponsors and co-sponsors are Democrats, but several Republicans, such as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, have supported the plan, suggesting that a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans could pass the measure.

A 2011 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School found that 38 percent of LGBT individuals who were open about their sexuality at work were discriminated against and 28 percent were fired. The best way to prevent this unfair treatment is to pass the anti-discrimination act.

Although the legislation has been in the works for two decades, there couldn't be a better time than now to enact it. More Americans than ever are supportive of gay rights and, according to the Center for American Progress, 9 out of 10 already think there is a federal law protecting LGBT employees. Congress must make that a reality.

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