President Obama Signs Executive Order Addressing Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Discrimination

Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor

July 25, 2014

President Obama has signed an Executive Order protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals from discrimination and harassment. The Executive Order, commonly referred to as the ENDA Executive Order, covers federal contractors and federal agencies. Covered employers should review and revise their workplace policies and procedures to specifically prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and to ensure that all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, receive equal opportunities in the workplace.

The Executive Order amends previous Executive Order 11478 by substituting "sexual orientation, gender identity" for "sexual orientation," and amends Executive Order 11246 by substituting "sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin" for "sex or national origin." The list of federally protected categories also includes race, color, religion, national origin, age and sex.

The Order is effective immediately. Additionally, the Order directs the Secretary of Labor to prepare implementing regulations within 90 days. The amendments to Executive Order 11246 will apply to federal contracts entered into on or after the effective date of the regulations issued by the Secretary of Labor.

In a statement, Tico Almeida, founder and president of the LGBT organization Freedom to Work, praised the Executive Order: "President Obama's signature sends a strong message: update your workplace policies to protect LGBT employees or forfeit your highly lucrative taxpayer-funded contracts. This is a watershed moment in our country's march toward equality."

This action shows a focus by the Obama administration on greater workplace rights for LGBT individuals. Various states and municipalities have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, a proposed congressional bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), has yet to be passed by Congress and make its way to the President's desk for signature. Dr. Paul Song, Executive Chairman of the Courage Campaign, stated in a press release: "Today our nation is taking another important step towards creating a more perfect union. President Obama's action today is another historic milestone as we create a more just and equal workplace for all. Now Congress must act to ensure all Americans are protected and treated equally."