The United States Department of Labor issued a final rule recently to implement an executive order amended by President Obama last summer. The executive order and the rule prohibit the federal government and any company that does more than $10,000 in business with the United States from discriminating against employees based upon sexual orientation or gender identification. The rule will be published in the Federal Register, and will take effect 120 days after publication.
The anti-discrimination executive order amended by President Obama was originally signed by Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The original order prohibited the government or federal contractors from discriminating in the workplace on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity. Gender was added to the list of protected categories in 1967, and in the 1990's President Bill Clinton added sexual orientation with regard to federal employees only. President Obama has now placed gender identity for federal employees and contractors, and sexual orientation for federal contractors in the same category of anti-discrimination prohibitions as race, ethnicity, gender and religion.
Oklahoma state law does not protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The new federal rule therefore provides a very important protection for Oklahoma residents. As with any law or regulation that deals with discriminatory intent, proving the elements of a claim under the new rule may be complicated. Knowing what kind of evidence may be necessary, and what avenues are open to obtain it may not be easy in many instances.
Oklahomans should be aware of their civil rights, and how best to protect them. Employees of federal contractors who believe they have experienced workplace discrimination may wish to consult an experienced employment law attorney to better understand whether they have a claim.
Source: hrc.org, "Dept. of Labor Announces Final Rule Banning LGBT Discrimination in Federal Contracting & Employment," Dec. 3, 2014