Sexual-Orientation-Based Employment Discrimination: States' Experience With Statutory Prohibitions

OGC-98-7R: Oct 23, 1997

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 1997 (ENDA), a bill that would make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of sexual orientation, focusing on: (1) the characteristics, coverage, and exclusions of state sexual-orientation discrimination laws and how they compare with provisions of ENDA; and (2) the number of complaints filed with the states.

GAO noted that: (1) although state discrimination laws differ in some respects, they generally share a number of features with one another and with ENDA; (2) all the state laws and ENDA cover employees in both the public and private sectors and, except for one state, exempt religious organizations; (3) many of the states and ENDA exempt some nonprofit organizations as well; (4) all the state discrimination laws and ENDA vest an administrative agency with at least partial enforcement authority; typically, courts also play a role; (5) all of the state discrimination laws and ENDA also provide for protection of employees against retaliation; (6) these laws and ENDA establish a range of remedies for unlawful discrimination, which may include civil penalties imposed on the employer and backpay awards and punitive damages for the employee; (7) for those states where the law has taken effect, relatively few formal complaints of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation have been filed, either in absolute numbers or as a percentage of all employment discrimination complaints in the state; (8) state statistics generally do not show any trend in the volume of employment discrimination cases based on sexual orientation over the periods examined; and (9) GAO found no indication that these laws have generated a significant amount of litigation.