Workplace sexual orientation, gender identity protections considered

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony March 1 on a bill that would prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sen. Megan Hunt
Sen. Megan Hunt

Current state law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status or national origin. LB169, introduced by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list. The bill would apply to government employers, labor organizations and private employers with fifteen or more employees.

Under Nebraska law, Hunt said, employers can legally discriminate against employees or prospective hires on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation, which not only hurts Nebraska’s economic development, but makes the LGBTQ+ community feel unwelcome in their state.

“This means LGBTQ+ Nebraskans can legally be denied job opportunities they’re otherwise qualified for, endure harassment or retaliation, have their hours cut, be given less preferred position assignments or even be fired based purely on who they are or who they love,” Hunt said.  

Passing LB169 also would allow the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission to fully leverage all federal funds available to help protect Nebraskans from discrimination, she said. 

Hunt brought an amendment to the bill that she said would alter the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act to extend the prohibition to employers with fewer than 15 employees. 

Nate Dodge, speaking on behalf of the Greater Omaha Chamber and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, testified in support of the bill. In a state that struggles to find and retain talent, he said, it doesn’t make sense to allow Nebraska employers to discriminate against any employee. Additionally, he said, the measure would have a positive impact on the state’s economic development.

“Employees who are considering where to live weigh a wide range of factors … [and] talented people want to work in an environment that is open, welcoming and non-discriminatory,” Dodge said. 

Allen Fredrickson, president and CEO of Signature Performance, Inc. in Omaha, also spoke in favor. LB169 is ethical, moral and the right thing to do, he said, and is consistent with Nebraska’s message of “The Good Life.”

“This legislation lets those that are affected by [discrimination] know that they can put roots down here, live here, thrive here [and] prosper here,” Fredrickson said. “From a business perspective, it’s essential that we do everything we possibly can to welcome all talent so that the state can overcome a desperate challenge that we’ve faced for many years — workforce shortage.”

Jane Seu, representing the ACLU of Nebraska, testified in favor of the bill. All people deserve to be treated fairly and equally by the laws of their state, she said, and LB169 would extend core protections to LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace.

“Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ employees can be denied promotions, lose their jobs [and] even experience violence in the workplace just for being who they are,” Seu said. “Extending discrimination prohibitions to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity allows LGBTQ+ people to participate in their communities and live full lives as their authentic selves.”

In opposition to the proposal was Marion Miner, representing the Nebraska Catholic Conference. Every person should be treated with respect and dignity, Miner said, but the bill goes beyond protecting against unjust discrimination. 

“[LB169] uses government coercion and punishment to force individuals, employers, small business owners, nonprofit entities and religious organizations, among others, to affirm conduct and messages that conflict with their sincerely held beliefs about marriage, human sexuality and concerns for privacy,” Miner said.

Karen Bowling, executive director of the Nebraska Family Alliance, also spoke in opposition to the bill. Diverse and pluralistic societies contain a variety of views and beliefs pertaining to marriage and human sexuality, she said, and maintaining the status quo will not harm Nebraska’s economic development.

“In 2022, according to [data] on best states for business and economic development … the top 10 includes nine states that have no sexual orientation or gender identity state statutes,” she said. 

Speaking in a neutral capacity on LB169 was Paula Gardner, executive director of the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission. She noted that the amendment could have a fiscal impact on the state because discrimination investigations of businesses with fewer than 15 employees would not be eligible for federal reimbursement.

The committee took no immediate action on LB169.

Bookmark and Share