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Anti-Discrimination Employment Bill to Include Gays, Transgender People

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In the 2008 general legislative session a Utah state Representative has said she will run a bill aimed at preventing workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

{mosimag}The bill, titled Antidiscrimination Act Amendments, was written by Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City. If passed in its current incarnation, the bill will make it illegal for Utah employers to refuse to hire, promote, demote or fire an employee based on his or her real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill also makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against otherwise qualified gay or transgender employees on the basis of wages and privileges and conditions of employment.
Currently, Utah law prohibits discrimination on race, color, sex, age (if the individual is over 40 years old), childbirth or pregnancy status, religion, national origin and disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Johnson said a number of factors influenced her decision to run the bill, of which she is currently the sole sponsor. These included the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month (though without protection for transgender workers) and the case of Krystal Ettsity, a UTA bus driver fired for being a transwoman.
In September, a 10th Circuit Court ruled that Ettsity’s firing was legal under Utah law.
“We had an opinion from the 10th Circuit Court that their hands were tied and that it was the responsibility of the legislature to address the issue,” said Johnson, who is openly lesbian.
Johnson said that Equality Utah, the state’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group, also approached her about running the bill. Keri Jones, the group’s Manager of Programs & Administration, said that Equality Utah is ready to give the bill “all the support they can muster.”
“People should be judged on what counts – education, experience, work habits,” she said. “The law has held that other characteristics, like race and religion, are irrelevant and should not be considered by an employer. Sexual orientation and gender identity are also irrelevant to whether a person is qualified for a job. Passing this amendment will help ensure a fair and just Utah.”
Although Johnson said that she expects the bill will reach the House floor for discussion, she anticipates that it will face a lot of opposition.
“We’re going to hear similar arguments that we heard against hate crimes legislation,” she said. “I think we’ll see the other side dance around the issue. To explain why gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people shouldn’t be protected they’ll talk about morality and marriage equality, but there’s no way to really say discrimination is acceptable. There’s no valid argument.”
One argument Johnson expects to hear is that being gay or transgender is a choice, and therefore should not be protected by law.
“That’s not something I subscribe to,” she said. “But even if I did, I would say religion is a protected class, and religion is a choice. So I think it’s a moot argument, because in most cases people choose to be Mormons, or Lutherans, or whatever.”
Although Johnson also anticipates that passing her nondiscrimination bill may take just as long as it took for a basic hate crimes law to pass, she said she remains optimistic.
“I think this is a process that will take several years in Utah, but I’m glad to have that dialogue,” she said. “History is on our side and we will eventually prevail.”
If passed, the bill will exempt religious-owned businesses and businesses with less than 15 employees. It will also apply to training programs, labor organizations and vocational schools.

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