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Senate Moves Forward on Sexual Orientation Discrimination Bill

By a vote of 61-30, Senate Bill 815 cleared a key test vote. The legislation, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of an individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity by employers with at least 15 employees. The Act would expand protections against discrimination that already exist on basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability to LGBT individuals.

Currently, legislation in twenty-one (21) states and the District of Columbia offer protections for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered individuals. However, a 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office found "relatively few employment discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity" in the 21 states and the District of Columbia that have such laws.

Additional protections also exist in certain cities, including Columbus, Ohio, for LGBT employees. Columbus's city code protects against employment discrimination, which pursuant to code section 2331.01, includes sex, sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 will only permit disparate treatment claims, specifically excluding disparate impact claims under the Act. Additionally, the Act is specifically limited to not include prohibitions for an employer from requiring an employee to adhere to reasonable dress or grooming standards. Enforcement powers are granted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) just as they have under specified provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Monday's vote opens the floor to debate on the bill. The Senate is expected to schedule a full vote by week's end.

By: Justin A. Morocco

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