Jobs Program Heralded by Administration Raises LGBT Workplace Protection Questions

Posted by Chris Geidner
May 3, 2012 6:05 PM |

On Wednesday, May 2, Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was in Philadelphia to join with the city's mayor, Michael Nutter, to announce that a total of 300,000 employment opportunities would be available over the summer to "low-income and disconnected youth" as part of the administration's Summer Jobs+ initiative -- a partnership between the federal government and state, local and private employers.

solis.pngAsked by Metro Weekly about the program today, however, a Labor Department spokesman says that there is no nondiscrimination requirement for employer participation beyond applicable laws -- meaning that LGBT applicants could potentially be shut out of jobs being promoted by this government initiative.

"This is an entirely voluntary program," Labor spokesman David Roberts says. Referring to sexual orientation or gender identity nondiscrimination requirements, he adds: "Those elements are not part of the participation requirements."

The White House promoted the program announcement itself, and White House spokesman Shin Inouye tells Metro Weekly on May 2, "The White House is pleased that so many private and public partners have stepped up to help provide hundreds of thousands of summer jobs and employment opportunities for our youth. All participating partners must follow current federal and state employment laws, and we hope that youth from all backgrounds will consider taking part in the program."

Because the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has not passed Congress, however, federal employment laws allow employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Federal employment laws may, however, provide protection for those facing discrimination based on gender identity. An April 20 decision by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the case of Mia Macy found that Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination in employment includes discrimination based on gender identity.

Asked specifically whether the White House views the "current federal ... employment laws" as forbidding discrimination based on gender identity, a White House spokesman did not provide any comment.

Beyond requiring nondiscrimination policies as a condition of participating in the Summer Jobs+ initiative, Metro Weekly asked if the federal government had done anything to determine if employers involved in the program include sexual orientation or gender identity in their nondiscrimination policies.

Labor spokesman Roberts only reiterated that there was no requirement, and the White House provided no comment beyond Inouye's initial response.

On April 12, however, when responding to questions about President Obama's decision not to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, White House press secretary Jay Carney had talked about the federal government working to expand information about and knowledge of workplace nondiscrimination issues.

Carney said at the time, "We’re deeply committed to working hand-in-hand with partners in the LGBT community on a number of fronts to build the case for employment non-discrimination policies including by complementing the existing body of compelling research with government-backed data and analysis, building a coalition of key stakeholders and decision-makers, directly engaging with and educating all sectors of the business community -- from major corporations to contractors to small business -- and raising public awareness about the human and financial costs of discrimination in the work force."

With the Summer Jobs+ initiative, though, no official can point to any effort to "build the case for employment non-discrimination policies" or to make efforts "engaging and educating" employers about discrimination.

[Photo: Solis (Photo from Department of Labor website.)]

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