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ENDA hearings held

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. lawmakers are getting to work on a measure intended to guard against anti-LGBT discrimination on the job.

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee this month held the Senate’s first hearing on the fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which bans workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

ENDA, intended to close the gap in 29 states lacking protections for LGBTs, would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire or refuse to promote an employee based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The measure, as proposed in the Senate and House, would not apply to companies with fewer than 15 employees.

“The Senate is moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from arbitrary discrimination in the workplace,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign. “Like our neighbors and co-workers, LGBT people simply want a fair chance to succeed and support our families.”

The Senate version of ENDA was introduced Aug. 15. The House version was introduced June 24 and was scheduled for a committee vote as early as this week.

Witnesses for ENDA at the Senate hearing included Solmonese, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Massachusetts police officer Mike Carney, who sued for sexual orientation discrimination.

Opening the hearing, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, said, “Over the last 45 years, we have made great strides towards eliminating discrimination in the workplace. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin and religion. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, in 1967, prohibited discrimination on the basis of age. The Americans with Disabilities Act, in 1990, prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability. It is time, at long last, for us to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as well. Such discrimination is wrong and cannot be tolerated.”

Harkin chairs the committee formerly chaired by Edward Kennedy. Harkin said the Massachusetts lawmaker would have been proud to have presided over the hearing.

“Sen. Kennedy worked his entire career to ensure opportunity for all Americans,” Harkin said. “And he first introduced this legislation in 1994. Today, by taking up this important bill, we continue Sen. Kennedy’s work, and we continue the proud commitment of this committee to uphold fair treatment for working Americans.”

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