Bill would prohibit employee sexual orientation discrimination

Employees would be protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation under a bill heard by the Judiciary Committee March 14.

LB485, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, would prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation. The bill would apply to employers with 15 or more employees, employers with state contracts, the State of Nebraska, governmental agencies and political subdivisions.

Discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status and national origin currently are prohibited.

The facts are undeniable that transgender citizens face discrimination in the workplace, Conrad said, adding that discrimination is wrong and should not occur under any circumstance.

“I believe no one should be fired for who they are or who they love,” she said. “This is a matter of justice and a matter of fairness.”

Barbara Albers, executive director of the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission, testified in support of the bill, saying the commission has received sexual orientation discrimination complaints. The current discrimination law is too narrowly defined, she said, making it difficult to conduct an investigation.

Lincoln City Council member Carl Eskridge, testifying on behalf of himself, also supported the bill. Omaha implemented an ordinance that prohibits this type of discrimination last year, he said, but the protection should be extended statewide.

“Discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community exists, and unless people happen to live in Omaha, they are not protected against it,” he said. “Providing protections is good for our state and sends the LGBT community and others the message that our doors are open and that we are a state that welcomes everyone.”

Todd Ruhter, a Grand Island citizen, also testified in support of the bill.

“No matter how good I am at my job and no matter how productive I am for my employer, as a gay man I am always at risk of losing my job,” he said.

LB485 would provide some relief for employees by assuring that they are judged by their qualifications and dedicated efforts in the workplace and not for their personal life choices, Ruhter said.

Lex Ann Roach, representing the Central Nebraska Human Rights Coalition, also testified in support of the bill. Six in 10 Americans acknowledge they have a gay or lesbian friend, she said, which indicates that over 1 million Nebraskans are connected to and impacted by decisions that affect the LGBT community.

People will choose not to live in Nebraska if equal treatment of its citizens is only implied, Roach said.

Mark Ashton, a pastor at Christ Community Church in Omaha, opposed the bill, saying it would create more discrimination than it would prevent. Businesses with a Christian mission would be required to hire people against their values, he said, so the bill would change from equal protection under the law to special protection under the law for certain populations.

Kellie Fiedorek, litigation counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, also testified in opposition to the bill, saying that it would result in reverse discrimination.

“You do not leave your conscience and your faith at home when you go to work,” she said. “Passage of this bill would affirm discrimination against Nebraska individuals who hold sincere religious beliefs about marriage and about sexuality.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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