Thursday, April 12, 2007

Stop Employment Discrimination in Nebraska - Support LB 475

by Kyle Michaelis
If I could see only one piece of legislation pass in the remaining weeks of the Unicameral's 2007 session, that legislation would be LB 475. The Judiciary Committee approved LB 475 with six Senators FOR, one Senator AGAINST, and one Senator not voting. The Committee described the bill as follows:
Legislative Bill 475 adds sexual orientation to the factors that an employer is forbidden to consider when making employment decisions. Under LB 475, it would be an unlawful employment practice for an employer, an employment agency, or a labor organization to discriminate against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation....

The Act applies to employers having 15 or more employees; employers with state contracts regardless of the number of employees; the State of Nebraska; governmental agencies; and political subdivisions....

[T]he prohibition against discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation does not apply to any bona fide religious organization.
Don't get me wrong - I know there are more pressing issues facing the state of Nebraska than employment discrimination. The budget, tax cuts, school reorganization, and water policy all demand greater attention and deserve prioritization. But, I stand by my designation of LB 475 as the New Nebraska Network's own personal priority bill because it best reflects the Nebraska in which we believe and the principles to which this site is dedicated.

I cannot speak to the people of Nebraska's opinion on the morality of homosexuality. That's a deeply personal question speaking to an individual's character, convictions, and religious faith in so fundamental a manner that generalization is all but impossible. But, I do feel confident in saying the Nebraskans that I know are not bigots - not in the rural community in which I grew up, not in the city in which I currently live.

Like race, religion, gender, disability, and national origin that are already protected classes, Nebraskans understand that whom a person loves and how they express themselves sexually has no bearing on an employee's qualifications or performance.

Sex may still be a topic that many Nebraskans are uncomfortable talking about publicly, but that doesn't mean they'd support using sexual orientation as grounds for discrimination. Rather, Nebraskans believe in privacy and respect that there are personal matters - hurting noone and breaking no law - that do not and should not affect ones employment.

This is more than just wishful thinking on my part. A 2004 survey conducted by the Nebraska Association of Sociological Behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that the people of our state overwhelmingly reject the notion that "it is okay for an employer to hire or not hire an applicant based on the applicant’s sexual orientation."

Broken down by legislative district, not a single district supported allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation. In fact, such discrimination was rejected by more than 2/3rds of those surveyed in 42 of Nebraska's 49 districts. The seven districts that couldn't manage a super majority against discrimination included:
LD #1 - Lavon Heidemann - 62.7% against discrimination
LD #16 - Kent Rogert - 62.9% against discrimination
LD #30 - Norm Wallman - 61.5% against discrimination
LD #36 - John Wightman - 65.7% against discrimination
LD #43 - Deb Fischer - 64.4% against discrimination
LD #44 - Mark Christensen - 52.9% against discrimination
LD #47 - Philip Erdman - 53.3% against discrimination
With results like that, it's hard to imagine how State Senators could justify not making this overdue change that will finally capture the common sense and principled compassion of Nebraska's voters.

Only Senators Christensen and Erdman, both representing the extreme southwest corner of the state, could even make a straight-faced claim that the jury is out or that their constituents haven't made up their minds on this issue. And, even they must first answer to conscience, which cannot possibly justify allowing employment discrimination against citizens for no other reason than their being attracted to people of the same sex.

The Center for People in Need has put together a great resource for contacting State Senators (via e-mail) with your support for LB 475. And, of course, the more direct and personal the contact the better, so constituents should definitely consider calling, writing a letter, or even making a visit to the capitol.

It would also be great if those who contact their State Senators about LB 475 could send word of the response they receive to Michael Gordon of Citizens for Equal Protection at That way, supporters can see where things stand and plan for where they have the most work to do.

Nebraskans are a fundamentally decent people. They believe in fairness and equality even if they sometimes need a refresher on what those principles actually entail. LB 475 is not some pie in the sky advancement of a "gay agenda" - it's good public policy reflecting who we are and what we stand for.

This is one of those issues on which we don't have to look to the future for progress. The people are already on our side. Now is the time to make our stand.

Again, I'm declaring LB 475 the New Nebraska Network's official priority bill for the 2007 session. That may not mean a damn thing, but - if you read this site, agree with its general philosophy, or even just have some vague appreciation for what we do - I hope you'll give serious consideration to joining in our effort to end this insulting and unprincipled form of employment discrimination that is so far beneath the people of our beloved state.

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Anonymous Jon Rehm said...

Interesting survery results, but I'd like to address a broader issue. I'd like to state first that I completely support LB 475. I doubt my Senator, Tony Fulton LD-29, will support the bill.

However even the bill does pass there needs to be an enforcement mechanism. The Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission is charged with investigating complaints of employment discrimination. The NEOC is chronically underfunded. Cases take up to a year to be investigated and investigators don't have a lot of time to look into the claims when they do start investigating them. The NEOC already handles cases involving gender, race, disability and age discriminsation. By adding sexual orientation as a protected category, the Legislature will be further crowding an already overflowing plate.

True there is always a private cause of action, which means you can hire an attorney. However as someone with a smattering of experience in discrimination litigation I can tell you a good NEOC investigation makes a private case a lot easier. In addition the law requires most discrimination charges be filed with the NEOC before they go into litigation. It's what they call exhausation of remedies.

To paraphrase the opponents of the anti-gay marriage in bigotry and discrimination is bad. I'm glad the legislature is considering expanding the scope of the law. However they need to add more budgetary muscle to enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.

Anonymous Bill said...

Kyle, if this bill passes I will become convinced that a new day is dawning in Nebraska. Surveys or not, there is a lot of ignorance and religous based bigotry in this state. It will be interesting to see if basic fairness can prevail over the forces of darkness. I also wonder if Gov. Heineman would sign such legislation.

Blogger Luke Peterson said...

I have been very active in being a major proponent of LB 475. I have testified at the committee hearing, I have sent numerous letters to state senators regarding the importance of this bill. I am even invited to the Legislature when LB 475 gets debated on the full floor. I have put too much time and energy to see this progressive piece of legislation go to waste and I will sincerely be distraught if this bill does not pass. The last time this bill went to the full floor, it failed by a miniscule margin, like two or four votes (not quite sure....but it was slim). If our Gov. and our State Senators knows what is best for them, they'd be proponents of this bill so then they won't have the label of "homophobe" on them. Believe me; I will call them out on their bias towards me as a gay man. I will not stop voicing my opinion to them just because this attempt failed (hypothetically of course). NO! I will continue to prove the case that I am a legitimate voter and a concern citizen who deserves the right to be heard! For to long the "intolerable" (my very own coined term of homophobes) have bullied me and my peers into a coercive submission and they expect us to take it up the ass like the good gay men that we are! NO! Not any more! We won't be rapped of our rights, we won't back down, and we won't let the intolerable bias against us scare us into rational fear! It's time that we stand up against them and let them know that they are the ones who are immoral!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Kyle for helping with this long over due legislation. I for one look forward to it being passed considering I know many of LGBT Nebraskans including myself that have been either fired or denied jobs because of their sexual orientation. My skills or experience in the legal field was not even considered when applying for jobs in this state. Considering I worked for a major law firm in Dallas and had excellent references from my former employer which none of them called.

It is time that Nebraska moves into the 21st Century in the protection of LGBTs in this State. We all know that everyone knows someone who is gay or lesbian whether it be a son, daughter, mother, father, sister or brother, aunt or uncle. It is time to protect them in employment opportunities as well as housing.

Thanks again for your support in this endeavor that is well overdue.

Anonymous Robin Q said...

I went to the center for people in need and here is what I sent to all the Senators

Nebraska the good life is only a motto that holds true for some of it’s' citizens. To not support LB475 would be regressive and morally apprehensible. If every Senator truly believes that Nebraska is indeed 'the good Life' then not voting for LB475 would be the morally apprehensible thing.

We are entering a global economy in which we have to compete with people from everywhere not just our neighbors here in the Heartland. In order to attract the brightest and the best from the employment and employee pool, Nebraska must change the way it perceived to outsiders.

We must start to project implement an aura of fairness and tolerance and LB475 is a great way to start.

Please I urge every Senator to vote for the Good Life for all the citizens of Nebraska.

In Brotherly and Sisterly solidarity,
Robin Q
Resident of LD 18

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right. You got to be kidding. As a gay person who left Nebraska for Colorado because my job made up an excuse for the outside but told me if I sued they would "out" me and it was legal to fire me for being gay. And this was Adrian Smith country (you figure it out). In the strong economic GLBTQ community of Colorado, we warn others to stay away from both NE and WY; the states that killed Brandi and Matthew. The darkest of dark caves where a picture of Kay Orr hangs. Will I come home if it passes? No need to pack up yet.


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