Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor
In the wake of President Barack Obama's inaugural address in which he proclaimed that "our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law" and in which he compared the struggle for gay rights and the Stonewall riots to the struggle for women's rights at Seneca Falls and civil rights in the Deep South during the 1960s, 2013 stands to be a significant year in achieving equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers. Employers should be aware that Virginia, North Dakota and Nebraska recently introduced legislation that would make sexual orientation a protected class.
The proposed Nebraska law, the State Fairness Ordinance (L.B. 485), prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants based on sexual orientation (as well as marital status) when it comes to hiring, firing, discipline and promotions. +2013 Bill Text NE L.B. 485; +2013 Bill Tracking NE L.B. 485. This follows Omaha's recently passed municipal ordinance that made sexual orientation and gender identity a protected class. City officials in Lincoln passed a similar measure, which the public will vote on in May 2013.
North Dakota's Senate Bill 2252 would amend the North Dakota Human Rights Act and specifically prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation. +2013 Bill Tracking ND S.B. 2252.A previous measure addressing sexual orientation discrimination was introduced in 2009; although it passed in the Senate, it failed to pass in the House.
In Virginia, state lawmakers have proposed a measure, Senate Bill 701 which would prohibit discrimination by state agencies based on sexual orientation.+2012 Bill Tracking VA S.B. 701; +2012 Bill Text VA S.B. 701.
Tidal Wave of Change
These new state developments are significant as they suggest a tidal wave of change in the fight for making sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes. They demonstrate that the movement for equal treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers has moved beyond the diverse metropolises and the traditionally more liberal-leaning states into the heartland of America. In fact, cities like Twin Falls, Idaho, and Lewiston, Idaho, recently passed measures prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in city jobs, joining other Idaho cities, such as Boise, Sandpoint and Caldwell, that passed similar measures. In Kentucky, the tiny city of Vicco just passed an ordinance prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination, joining only three other Kentucky cities - Louisville, Lexington and Covington - in adopting similar ordinances. With the Supreme Court set to take on the issue of same-sex marriage at the end of March, it looks as if substantial progress may be made towards equal rights in the workplace in 2013.