Manufacturers believe that equal opportunity is a key pillar of our great democracy—one that allows every individual to pursue the American Dream based on his or her own talents and qualifications. That’s why manufacturers and the business community have made great strides in providing non-discrimination protections for our LGBT employees. There is still further to go, however, and manufacturers believe now is the right time for Congress to act to help our country get there.
On Tuesday, I testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers. In my testimony, I expressed manufacturers’ support for the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include explicit non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We believe a federal standard will help manufacturers better attract and retain a talented workforce, which is greatly needed as we face a major skills gap. Many states and hundreds of localities already explicitly protect residents from sexual orientation- and gender identity-based discrimination in the workplace—all with slightly different requirements and definitions. A uniform federal approach will help business by providing a clear basic level of non-discrimination protection across the states.
The Equality Act puts sexual orientation and gender identity on a level playing field with other sex-based non-discrimination protections. It also includes two important pragmatic features. First, it includes a basic applicability threshold of 15 or more employees to protect smaller firms from the red tape that applies to larger employers. Second, it includes a religious exemption allowing religious employers to maintain their religious values and teachings in making hiring decisions for specific positions that require it.
Manufacturers have been at the forefront in providing their employees with fair and meaningful protections against sexual orientation- and gender identity-based discrimination. Partly, this is because talented employees demand it. Partly, this is because employers understand the importance of creating an environment in which the very best people can succeed based on merit. And namely, this is because manufacturers believe that discrimination of any kind is antithetical to the values we work to uphold every day: free enterprise, competitiveness, individual liberty and equal opportunity. The Equality Act will protect those values and create a stronger, more welcoming workforce.