President Obama Signs Executive Orders Forbidding Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Federal Government and Most Contractors

On July 21, 2014, President Obama signed an Executive Order amending Executive Order 11478 adding “gender identity” to the list of categories on the basis of which the government may not discriminate in its hiring and employment practices. The amendment now states that: “It is the policy of the Government of the United States to provide equal opportunity in Federal employment for all persons, to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or status as a parent and to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a continuing affirmative program in each executive department and agency.”

In a second Executive Order, the President took an unprecedented further step in the same direction: he amended Executive Order 11246, which establishes rules for private companies that do contract work for the government exceeding $10,000.00 in a twelve-month period, as well as subcontractors of those complanies, to follow the same anti-discrimination policy. Each contractor will now be governed by the regulation stating: “During the performance of this contract, the contractor agrees as follows: (1) The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin.” Similar language is added in other sections of the Order, and contractors and subcontractors covered by it will now be required to include corresponding nondiscrimination clauses in subcontracts with their vendors and supplies of goods and/or services necessary to carry out their covered contracts, and to take affirmative action to ensure that individuals are employed and treated without regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. Notably, this Executive Order does not include exemptions for religious organizations.

As he signed the Order, the President said “It doesn’t make any sense, but today in America, millions of our federal citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of what they do and fail to do, but simply because of who they are–lesiban, gay, bisexual, transgender–and that’s wrong. We’re here to do what we can to make it right, to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in the other direction.” Then, speaking to LGBT advocates in attendance, he continued: “Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day come. You organized, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you sent letters–I know because I got a lot of them…Thanks to your passion and advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government–the government of the people by the people and for the people–will become just a little bit fairer.”

Also in attendance were Senators who have fought to pass legislation to make these policies the law of the land: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, if it is ever implemented, will prohibit all employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

If you believe your employer has illegally discriminated against you, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.