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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

HB 225: Employment Non-Discrimination

Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) refiled his inclusive employment non-discrimination bill on the first day of early filing. Identical legislation has been filed in the House every session since 2007 (78R HB 1136, 79R HB 1515, 80R HB 900, 81R HB 538, 82R HB 665, 83R HB 238 & HB 1146, 84 HB 672) and by Johnson for the last two sessions.

Under current law it is illegal in Texas to discriminate in employment based on a person’s race, religion, gender, national origin, age, or disability. It remains legal to discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. There is no federal law prohibiting employment discrimination against the LGBT community (although, according to  a poll by the Center for American Progress, 9 out of 10 American voters erroneously believe that federal law does provide LGBT people employment protections).

HB 238 would allow the Texas Workforce Commission's Civil Rights Division (TWC CRD) to investigate claims of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in the same way that it investigates claims of discrimination based on the other protected attributes. The TWC CRD allows individuals who believe they have experienced prohibited employment discrimination to file a complaint in person in Austin, over the phone, or via notarized form. If the complaint warrants investigation the TWC CRD pursues it further. The Legislative Budget Board (an agency of the State of Texas) estimates that if employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression was prohibited that the TWC CRD would need to investigate 474 credible cases a year.

There is a great deal of evidence that employment discrimination is pervasive and widespread in Texas:

  • Men in same-sex relationships in Texas make 9% less on average than their straight married counterparts according to information from the Census Bureau,
  • Households in Texas headed by two women make one average 11% less than households headed by a man and a woman according to information from the Census Bureau,
  • In a 2010 survey 26% of transgender Texans reported losing a job because of their gender identity or expression.
Prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression has overwhelming public support. In a poll conducted by Equality Texas,
  • 76% of registered voters in Texas said they support ending employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation,
  • 70% said they supported ending employment and housing discrimination for transgender citizens.
With the reality of employment discrimination clear, a mechanism already in place for investigating it and strong public support for addressing the issue why has the decade long effort to pass legislation thus far been fruitless? Because there is a disconnect between the people of the state of Texas and the 183 elected officials who create laws in Texas. If HB 225 is to become law we must bridge that disconnect, and the only way to do it is by contacting your members of the legislature and telling them that you expect their support for HB 225.

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