Sexual orientation law opposed by business exec, Boozman

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 138 views 

While many may not yet be aware of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013, it has become a hot topic among small and large business managers across the country and is beginning to be discussed locally.

The bill, passed by the Senate earlier this month, prohibits the discrimination of workers simply because he or she may be gay, lesbian, transgendered or bi-sexual. This includes protecting the employee from being fired due to their sexual orientation.

Jim Medley, CEO of the Fort Smith-based Area Agency on Aging of Western Arkansas, said he was against the legislation. But Medley's opposition to the legislation has nothing to do with being against protecting individuals from discrimination. He said his opposition comes from a belief that laws are already in place to protect against discrimination.

"I think they're creating issues where none exist," he said. "If someone's being fired because they're gay, bi or transgendered, they probably have a good lawsuit right now."

His views align closely with those of Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said the bill was unnecessary.

"I am opposed to discrimination of any kind–in the workplace and any place else," he said, later adding that his background in employment law had given him a unique perspective on the issue, much like Medley's.

“Listen, I understand people have different opinions on this issue, and I respect those opinions,” Boehner said. “But as someone who has worked in the employment law area for all of my years in the statehouse and all of my years here, I see no basis or no need for this.”

Medley said the level of preparation his organization has to complete simply to fire an employee not meeting expectations is a burden.

"I bet you'd be surprised at our operation," he said. "When we get ready to fire somebody, I look at the file that's brought to my attention and I say before we do it, 'What have we done to this person? Have we given them an opportunity to change their ways?' If there's any question unanswered, I say consult our attorney to make sure we're not overlooking anything."

While Medley is in agreement with Boehner, who has said he is unlikely to bring the Senate bill to a vote in the House, the Center for American Progress has voiced its support for the legislation, stating it would make it easier for businesses to have uniformed policies regarding LGBT discrimination protections.

"Current protections are a patchwork of various state and local laws and court and administrative rulings that offer inconsistent guidance to employers and protections for workers," the organization said on its website. "These varying degrees of protections create a confusing landscape for both employees and employers. A uniform, federal standard would simplify and clarify the workplace protections afforded to LGBT Americans while ensuring that all workers are judged on their talent, work ethic, and merits."

President Barack Obama has also voiced support for the legislation, adding that the House should take up the legislation and pass it as soon as possible.

"One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do," Obama said. "Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it. I urge the House Republican leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote and send it to my desk so I can sign it into law."

U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., split their vote when the bill navigated through the Senate.

Pryor's office said he voted for ENDA "because he thinks that no one should be fired or harassed in the workplace based on their sexual orientation."

Boozman, who voted against the bill, echoed the concerns of Medley.

“We can all agree that every American should be treated fairly in the workplace, but I have concerns that this legislation creates special protections for a specific class of people, which could trigger unnecessary lawsuits and harm everyday employees," Boozman said.

Staffers for U.S. Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said neither had yet taken a position on ENDA.

As for Medley, who oversees a staff of more than 500, he said he hoped the protections in place that protect individuals from discrimination would be enough to keep the bill from possibly seeing passage.

"Anytime the government passes more laws, there's typically more regulation and paperwork," he said. "I don't see anything good coming from it. I think the government is going where they don't need to be going."