Congress moving closer to extending Title VII protections to sexual orientation

A Senate committee has approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) by a 15-7 vote, an action that could lead to an extension of federal law protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation would prohibit employers from firing or refusing to hire people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity — extending workplace protections that already apply to race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability.

According to published reports, nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have non-discrimination policies that cover sexual orientation and 57 percent of these large corporations also ban discrimination based on gender identity. However, neither sexual orientation nor gender identity is protected under federal law, or under the laws of the majority of states.

Under the legislation, religious organizations and businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from the bill. Interestingly, more than 100 businesses endorsed the legislation, and most business groups that usually resist new workplace laws and regulations have remained silent on ENDA.

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it will face a tough time in the House.