Following a Senate vote earlier this week on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), proponents are bracing themselves for a tough fight in the House of Representatives. ENDA proposes to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or identity in much the same way that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Currently, 22 states, including New York, have laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In addition, New York City’s anti-discrimination law, which is perhaps one of the most progressive and powerful in the country, has long prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Although New York State’s Human Rights Law prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, the law does not provide for the recovery of attorneys’ fees, thus making it less likely that an aggrieved employee will take advantage of the protections that the Human Rights Law provides. Conversely, New York City’s Human Rights Law does provide for the recovery of attorneys’ fees, thus making it a far more effective statute. In addition to prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination, ENDA would make attorneys’ fees recoverable in sexual orientation discrimination cases, thus putting it on the same footing as other types of discrimination.
Nevertheless, ENDA may not become law because House leadership has stated that it will not bring the bill to a vote. Thus, the nearly 40 year fight that was initiated by Representative Bella Abzug’s introduction of the Equality Act may continue.