Senate panel approves bill banning LGBT discrimination at work

A Senate panel approved legislation Wednesday in a bipartisan 15-7 vote that would outlaw discrimination in the workplace based on an employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

Three Republicans joined 12 Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in approving the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

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The GOP votes came from Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchBacteria found ahead of Olympics underscores need for congressional action for new antibiotics Burr pledges to retire after one more Senate term Leaders appoint allies, adversaries to Puerto Rico growth task force MORE (Utah), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiBig Oil makes a push for risky and reckless Arctic drilling GOP divided over 0M for climate fund Overnight Energy: House passes first Interior, EPA spending bill in seven years MORE (Alaska), and Mark KirkMark KirkNBA pulls All-Star Game from NC over bathroom law GOP groups scale back support for Sen. Johnson Top GOP senator: Trump will have little effect on Senate races MORE (Ill.). Hatch voted aye by proxy.

The legislation would outlaw any kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation including both hiring and firing and other employment related matters like salaries and terms of employment.

Federal law currently outlaws employment discrimination centered on age, disability, national origin, race, religion or sex but not gender identity or sexual orientation. ENDA aims to fill the hole in states in the 33 states where there is no separate law against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

The vote came swiftly Wednesday morning just as the committee gaveled into session. Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinGrassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? MORE (D-Iowa), the chairman of the committee, said this would be the first time the committee would report to the full Senate a bill that “prohibits discrimination based on sexual discrimination and gender orientation.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSuper-PAC targets Portman on trade Dem leader urges compromise on FCC set-top box plan Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension MORE (D-Nev.) said he expected to hold a floor vote on the bill "soon." 

Despite the committee vote, it is unclear whether the legislation could gain the 60 votes necessary to surpass a Senate filibuster. The bill has not had a vote in the House or Senate floor since 2007, despite being reintroduced in multiple Congresses.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderGOP senators to donors: Stick with us regardless of Trump Overnight Healthcare: Mysterious new Zika case | Mental health bill in doubt | Teletraining to fight opioids Hopes dim for mental health deal MORE (R-Tenn.) promised to introduce three amendments to the ENDA bill when it hits the Senate floor. According to his office, Alexander thinks the bill needs to give more guidance to employers.

One amendment says that an employer is not required to alter existing bathroom facilities. The amendment also lets an employer assign an employee transitioning from one gender to another to either a men's or women's bathroom or a shared bathroom as long as the assignment is meant to be as least disruptive to the office place as possible.

The second amendment defines an employee that is "transitioning" from one gender to a different one. The bill offers rights for individuals transitioning but does not definite when an employee is transitioning.

The third amendment strikes a provision in ENDA that allows sexual discrimination lawsuits to proceed even when the employer proved a legitimate reason for an action and proven that action would have been taken regardless of gender.

This story was updated at 16:39 p.m.

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