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Obama Bars Anti-Gay Discrimination by Federal Contractors

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

President Obama has signed an executive order barring the federal government and its contractors from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.

Private employers in many states can still fire employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, so this executive order gives a new layer of employment protection for some LGBT workers. The Huffington Post reports that this order does not include an exemption for religious employers.

How exactly will this executive order change employers' anti-discrimination policies?

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Order Contains 2 Parts

President Barack Obama's executive order details two major changes to how employees who owe their jobs to the federal government will be treated. One section deals primarily with writing transgender protections into the existing anti-discrimination rules for federal employees. The other main section addresses anti-discrimination rules for federal contractors, adding "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the list of protected classes.

Federal Employees

In August 1969, President Richard Nixon signed an Executive Order 11478, providing "equal employment opportunity" in the federal government. This order created a policy for every federal employer to "prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, or age." Almost three decades later, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order to add "sexual orientation" to this list of protected classes.

On Monday, President Obama amended Nixon's order further by adding "gender identity" to this list, explicitly protecting transgender individuals from discrimination at the hands of federal employers.

Federal Contractors

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents employment discrimination by private employers on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. But there are few federal protections from private employers who choose to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

This new executive order will amend Executive Order 11246, passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the list of classes protected from discrimination by federal contractors. After Monday, every federal contract will contain a non-discrimination clause that protects LGBT workers. This is good news for gay and transgender employees, since the protections potentially offered by ENDA are still on hold in Congress.

As HuffPo reports, it is still OK under 32 states' laws to fire someone for being LGBT. Obama's executive order affects 24,000 companies with about 28 million employees, "or about one-fifth of the nation's workforce," according to HuffPo.

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