Defending Against Employment Discrimination 

On July 21, 2014 President Obama signed an executive order formally prohibiting discrimination against gay and transgender workers in the federal government and companies that the federal government contracts with. The president faced passionate resistance from religious organizations arguing they should be granted an exception.

While the president encouraged Congress to take action to protect the rights of gay and transgender federal employees and contractors, he apparently decided to use executive power to grant the protections unwilling to wait any longer for the House to act. In 2013, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed in the Senate and would have granted more sweeping protections but the Act has not been voted on in the House and there were no signs that it would be any time soon.

Thus far, 18 states, including California, already ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, many states have no protections for gay and transgender people and many private companies throughout the nation are not prohibited from hiring and firing people based upon sexual identity. Now, if those companies contract with the United States government, they will be prohibited from such discrimination of they may lose their contracts.

According to ABC News, approximately 24,000 companies with 28 million workers will be impacted. While many federal contractors already have employment policies barring anti-gay workplace discrimination in place, many more will need to more vigilant about protecting their employees’ rights and, in states without official anti-discrimination laws for LGBT employees, the impact may be even more powerful. If nothing else, the president’s action sends a strong signal about equal rights.

A recent story in the Christian Science Monitor, however, indicates that some religious groups are unhappy that they may be forced to hire or retain employees whom they may have otherwise fired for their sexual orientation. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops called the president’s signing of the executive order unprecedented and said it lends the government’s economic power to a “‘deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality’ that faithful Catholics won’t abide.” Regardless of protestations, the protections are now federal law and companies not adhering to the new regulations may face consequences.