Ending Workplace Discrimination-Boehner on the wrong side of history

By Gary S. Cox

nbcpoliticsWorkplace discrimination against gay men, lesbians and transgendered people exists in today’s workforce and especially here in Georgia. In 2010, Vandiver Elizabeth Glenn sued her employer, the Georgia State Legislature, when she was wrongfully terminated from her job as an editor and proofreader for legislation when she announced she was going to make the transition from a man to a woman. The 11th Circuit District Court in Atlanta ruled that her employer had indeed wrongfully terminated her. What is interesting in this case is Ms. Glenn won on a “Motion for Summary Judgment” which means that there was enough evidence that she had been discriminated against based on sex discrimination law in the pre-trial filings by both the plaintiff and defendant. Her employer agreed in the pre-trial motions they had indeed fired her and could legally do so without repercussion because Mr. Glenn, the male employee originally hired, enjoyed no “special protections.” The Federal court disagreed and ruled on the summary judgment in favor of Ms. Glenn – without a trial.

To address this issue, State Representative Karla Drenner (D-DeKalb) is to be commended for her attempts to end employment and workplace discrimination by the state of Georgia.  She has introduced legislation to amend the Fair Employment Practices Act of 1978 to end discrimination based on sexual orientation in hiring and the workplace for state employees. As Georgia’s first openly gay state legislator, she knows firsthand the discrimination and open hostility she encountered when first elected.

According to House Speaker John Boehner, such real-life discrimination against LBGT employees would “create frivolous lawsuits and would hurt small business.” Ask Vandy Beth Glenn if her very courageous lawsuit against the very institution of legislative authority here in Georgia determining such matters as ending workplace discrimination was “frivolous?”  I have every confidence she would disagree with the Speaker’s assertion.

On November 7, 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA) on a 64 to 32 vote. Ten Republicans joined in the majority vote – including past presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Speaker Boehner, however, promptly announced that the bill was basically dead on arrival in the House. Upon passage of the legislation by the Senate, his office released a statement that ENDA “would not come up for a vote” this session. This puts the Speaker on the wrong side of history when it comes to extending workplace protections for LBGT employees. The Speaker is either out-of-touch with the “sea change” in public opinion regarding the right to marry and workplace discrimination or more to the truth of the matter, his leadership is held hostage by the conservative right wing of his party.  Unfortunately, the Speaker’s inaction on this most important legislation puts him and the House Republicans on the wrong side of history.