Legal Alerts

21 Jul 2014

President Signs Executive Order Protecting LGBT Workers

Today, only 18 states and the District of Columbia have laws explicitly protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) workers from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. While there is no current federal law adequately protecting all LGBT workers, such workers are now one step closer to obtaining that protection.

On Monday July 21, 2014, President Obama signed an Executive Order making it illegal for federal contractors to discriminate against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This Executive Order will affect 24,000 companies employing roughly 28 million workers, which is approximately 20% of the nation’s workforce. President Obama cited several reasons for the Executive Order, including:

  • the impact of workplace inequality on LGBT workers;
  • 91% of Fortune 500 companies already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 61% prohibit discrimination based on gender identity;
  • 6 in 10 small business owners believe that employment nondiscrimination laws improve their bottom line by helping employers attract the best and brightest employees; and
  • 86% of the nation’s largest federal contractors (representing nearly half of all federal contracting dollars) prohibit sexual orientation discrimination and 61% prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

Today’s Executive Order amends EO 11246, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 (which prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin). That order was last amended in 2002 by President George W. Bush (EO 13279) to allow religiously affiliated contractors to favor individuals of a particular religion. Obama’s order contains no further religious exemptions.

Executive Order 11246, and its subsequent amendments, governs only federal contractors and federally-assisted construction contractors and subcontractors. Any recipient of federal contracts amounting to more than $10,000 in one year must have policies that prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Order is administered and enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). As part of these duties, OFCCP conducts compliance reviews, receives complaints from individuals who believe they have been discriminated against, and provides technical assistance to contractors regarding their contractual obligations. The provision affecting federal contractors will apply to contracts entered into on or after the effective date of the rules to be prepared by the Department of Labor.

In addition to the new protections for federal contractors, the Executive Order ensures that federal employees — who are already protected on the basis of sexual orientation — will be protected from gender identity discrimination. This portion of the EO takes effect immediately.

If you have any questions about Equal Employment Opportunities, Federal Contracts, Affirmative Action, or any other employment matter, please do not hesitate to contact Karen Milner.

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