On the drive home this evening, NPR reported that the U.S. Senate had just voted to move forward with debate on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would expand the protections afforded under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the bill faces an uncertain future in the House (it was reported that the Speaker came out against consideration of the bill), many states already have laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people. But many do not.
New York is one of the states that enacted such protections. The New York Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (“SONDA”) was signed into law by Governor George Pataki on December 17, 2002, and the law became effective on January 16, 2003. An easy-reader summary of SONDA and its protections may be found in a brochure on the New York State Attorney General’s Website. Additional information may be found on the website for the New York State Division of Human Rights.
Although part of my practice involves representation of both employers and employees in discrimination cases, in the decade since the SONDA was enacted, I can count the number of cases I’ve handled involving an allegation of discrimination based on sexual orientation on one hand. By far, the vast majority of cases I’ve handled over the years have involved allegations of discrimination or harassment based on race, gender or disability. But, that doesn’t mean that statutes like SONDA are not needed, and in time, we may soon see a day when the protections of the ENDA are the law of the land.