President Obama's American Jobs Act, which he presented to Congress on Monday, would make it illegal for employers to run advertisements saying that they will not consider unemployed workers, or to refuse to consider or hire people because they are unemployed.
The proposed language is found in a section of the bill titled "Prohibition of Discrimination in Employment on the Basis of an Individual's Status as Unemployed." That section would also make it illegal for employers to request that employment agencies take into account a person's unemployed status.
It would also allow aggrieved job-seekers to seek damages if they have been discriminated against. This provision in particular prompted Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) to argue that Obama's proposal is aimed at creating a new, special class of people who can sue companies.
He said this provision would only discourage companies from interviewing unemployed candidates, and would "help trial lawyers who are not having enough work," since there are about 14 million unemployed Americans.
"That's 14 million potential new clients that could go hire a lawyer and file a claim because they didn't get hired even though they were unemployed," he said.
Under the bill, companies saying they will not consider unemployed candidates could face a court order enjoining them from this practice, a fine of up to $1,000 per day or "reasonable attorney's fees." Other violations could lead to damages as high as $5,000.
Enforcement of the new language would be carried out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other entities using the same power they have under the Civil Rights Act and the Government Employee Rights Act.
Gohmert also criticized other parts of Obama's proposal, such as language that would create a program allowing workers to be reimbursed if their employer cuts their work hours by 10 percent.
Obama's proposal has mostly met resistance from House Republicans, in large part because it proposes $447 billion in new spending that would be paid for with new tax revenue that stretches over the next decade.