The recent veto by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer of a state law that would have allowed operators of public accommodations to refuse service to members of the LGBT community has brought the question of equal rights for gays and lesbians back to the forefront of public discourse. New York City’s aggressive civil rights laws already protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination in employment and public accommodation. Likewise, New York State’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) extends certain protections throughout the state.

Many other states have not taken such measures. That is why U.S. Congress recently took steps toward enacting nationwide federal protection for the LGBT community similar to that already enjoyed by other protected classes.

On November 7, 2013 the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). This bill, if it becomes law, would prohibit several types of employment discrimination against members of the LGBT community across the nation and provide civil remedies for those who suffer such discrimination in the workplace:

  • Refusal to hire
  • Discriminatory discharge
  • Discrimination in pay or other terms and conditions of employment

The law would apply to actual members of the LGBT community and to people employers perceive to be gay or lesbian. Being a federal law, it would apply in every state throughout the country.

Of course, ENDA is not the law yet, and it likely faces an uphill battle in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it has been referred to several committees for debate and amendment. Nevertheless, employment discrimination lawyers should familiarize themselves with the bill so they are prepared to use it for their clients’ benefit should it become law.