Senate Democrats

Reid Remarks On The Employment Non-Discrimination Act

“If there was one federal law protecting all Americans from discrimination, instead of a patchwork of ineffective and inefficient state and local laws, it would be simpler and less confusing for businesses and employees alike.” 

“Not only is Speaker’s Boehner’s claim that ENDA would hurt businesses untrue, it’s also callous. It fails to take into account the heartbreak and suffering – not to mention lost wages and productivity – that workplace discrimination causes each year.”

“Every employee deserves to be judged on the quality of his or her work instead of on their sexual orientation or gender identity”

Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the importance of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

I was surprised to read yesterday that Speaker John Boehner opposes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because he believes it will result in frivolous lawsuits.

Coming from the man whose caucus spent $3 million in taxpayer dollars defending the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage law in court, that’s rich.

Still, I thought it was important to investigate the Speaker’s claim that protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans from being denied job opportunities, fired or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity would risk American jobs.

To the contrary, according to a study by the non-partisan United States Government Accountability Office, in the 21 states with some protection against this kind of discrimination, relatively few lawsuits have resulted.

Almost every state with an anti-discrimination law that protects workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals had fewer than 10 lawsuits filed between 2007 and 2012, according to the study.

In fact, the lack of one clear, consistent federal standard protecting against this harassment actually creates more confusion for businesses and local government.

Take the example of Kile Nave, a veteran police officer who was fired from the Audubon Park Police Department in Louisville, Kentucky after more than 3 years of being terrorized by his supervisors.

After speaking up against the harassment, Officer Nave was fired from the department.

Kentucky is one of 33 states with no statute preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

But Louisville has a local non-discrimination ordinance. And the department had a written policy against sexual harassment, although it did not expressly protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

So Officer Nave has filed two separate legal complaints against his former employer. Those complaints are still pending.

If there was one federal law protecting all Americans from discrimination, instead of a patchwork of ineffective and inefficient state and local laws, it would be simpler and less confusing for businesses and employees alike.

That’s one reason more than 100 of the nation’s largest companies support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and why most Fortune 500 companies already prohibit persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

These companies know that to recruit the best and brightest employees and remain competitive, they must foster an environment where all workers can reach their full potential.

Not only is Speaker’s Boehner’s claim that ENDA would hurt businesses untrue, it’s also callous.

It fails to take into account the heartbreak and suffering – not to mention lost wages and productivity – that workplace discrimination causes each year.

When Kile Nave was hired by the Audubon Park Police Department, he had already served 20 years as a police officer with other departments.

This is what Kile said yesterday: “I’ve been a law enforcement officer since 1989 and had never experienced anything like what I experienced with my previous employer… But I wasn’t going to let them push me out of a job I loved.”

So for three and a half years, Kile endured torture at the hands of two of his supervisors, including the chief and deputy chief of the department.

Although coworkers described Officer Nave’s on-the-job performance as exemplary, his supervisors called him derogatory names, told gay jokes in front of him and about him  and directed profanity-laced rants toward him.

This is what Officer Nave remembers about trying to get through the ordeal: “Each day I kept thinking ‘It’s going to get better today.’ But it didn’t. As a police officer you’re supposed to have thick skin. But it never got any better.”

Then last year, two weeks after Officer Nave filed a formal complaint with his chief, he was fired based on charges of insubordination.

For the first time since he was 16 years old, Kile Nave was unemployed. He is still unemployed today.

And although Kile would love to return to police work and to doing the job he enjoys, no department will hire him with a termination on his resume.

With one simple federal law in place, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, people like Kile could go to work without fearing such torment.

Every American deserves that right and that protection. And every employee deserves to be judged on the quality of his or her work instead of on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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