On July 21, 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order strengthening protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees of the federal government and federal contractors by amending two previous executive orders. During the signing ceremony in the White House East Room, President Obama stated, “America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people.” Although a bill banning employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, passed the Senate in 2013, the bill stalled in the House of Representatives, prompting President Obama’s executive order.
The order amends Executive Order 11246 and prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The order directs the Secretary of Labor to prepare regulations implementing this change within 90 days. The provisions of this executive order will apply to all federal contracts entered into on or after the effective date of the regulations promulgated by the Secretary of Labor. Although President Obama’s order does not include a religion-based exception, it does maintain the existing provision in Executive Order 11246 providing an exemption for a federal contractor or subcontractor “that is a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society, with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities.” The order also amends Executive Order 11478 in order to protect federal employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity, effective immediately. Federal employees were already protected on the basis of sexual orientation by a previous executive order signed by President Bill Clinton on May 28, 1998.
The executive order is expected to affect as much as 20 percent of the U.S. workforce through its impact on federal contractors-approximately 24,000 companies with 28 million employees. The executive order may be found here . If you have any questions about these issues, please contact your Employment counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.