U.S. Department of Labor Equal Employment Opportunity Policy

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U.S. Department of Labor Equal Employment Opportunity Policy


By: Alexis M. Herman

Date: May 1998

Source: United States. Department of Labor. "Equal Employment Opportunity Policy." 〈http://www.fedglobe.org/issues/laborpolicy.htm〉 (accessed April 15, 2006).

About the Author: Alexis Herman, the first African American to become Secretary of Labor, served in the administration of President Bill Clinton from 1996 to 2000. Born in Alabama, Herman spent most of her career assisting minority women. After a stint as a social worker, she became the director of the Women's Bureau in 1976. She later headed the Minority Women Employment Program of R-T-P, Inc., where she established programs to place minority women in white collar and nontraditional jobs.


Workplace discrimination has long been a matter of concern for gays and lesbians. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, but is silent on the matter of sexual orientation. Courts have consistently ruled that the act does not cover sexual orientation, leaving gays and lesbians vulnerable.

Some employers are open about their desire to exclude gays and lesbians from the workforce. Antigay discrimination has sometimes meant enduring daily harassment that includes name-calling, humiliation, and physical threats from coworkers and bosses alike. Most employers are more subtle, however. Policies rarely enforced against heterosexuals suddenly are invoked against employees perceived to be gay.

It is legal in a majority of states to fire a person because of his or her sexual orientation. In a well-known case, Cheryl Summerville, a cook in a suburban Atlanta Cracker Barrel restaurant, received a termination notice in 1991. The restaurant had adopted a policy of refusing to employ anyone who failed "to demonstrate normal heterosexual values." Summerville, who had earned excellent performance ratings, awards, and promotions, was fired for violating official company policy because she was gay. (Cracker Barrel has since changed its employment policies.)

In response to a campaign pledge to support gay rights, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 11478 on May 28, 1998, protecting federal employees from antigay workplace discrimination. However, the policy statement lacks any enforcement mechanism and employees who suspect discrimination can not bring their complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. When he signed the executive order, Clinton urged Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.



It is Department of Labor (DOL) policy to provide equal employment opportunity for all applicants for employment and employees of DOL. Therefore, discrimination, in any form, because of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation, is prohibited.

Equal opportunity for all employees is an integral part of accomplishing the mission of DOL. As Secretary of Labor, I am committed to fostering a workplace that is free of discrimination in any form. I believe that the Department, as a model employer, should be committed to the principle that it not only preaches but practices inclusive-ness, fairness, and the participation of all employees in all facets of the Department. This necessarily requires all of us to work together in creating a work environment that is perceived by all employees as fair and equitable.

Achieving this objective will require that each of us practice respect for one another, understanding that everyone employed here at DOL adds value to the work of this Department.

I expect every DOL manager and supervisor to be knowledgeable about and active in carrying out the Department's EEO policy, and to be rated annually, as part of their performance evaluations, on their ability to manage and develop people in keeping with this policy.

I expect every DOL employee to contribute to a work environment in which his or her coworkers can feel respected and valued.

I expect the Civil Rights Center, OASAM [Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management], to monitor compliance with this policy and the affirmative employment and nondiscrimination provisions of all applicable laws and regulations, and to assist me in promoting a dialogue to identify areas which serve to prevent us from achieving this policy.

                        /s/ AMH

                  Secretary of Labor

                        May 1998


The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would protect gay people from discrimination once they are employed. The act would make it a federal offense to discriminate against any individual because of actual or perceived sexual orientation and would cover any employer engaged in interstate commerce and who has fifteen or more employees. Religious organizations are exempt. It has been introduced in Congress repeatedly since 1995 by Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), Jim Jeffords (I-Vermont), and Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), among others.

Supporters of ENDA argue that it is a logical extension of the Civil Rights Act. They believe that it is based on the American ideal of equal opportunity, a civil right from which gay men and lesbian women cannot be excluded. They argue that employment should be decided on the basis of merit, skills, and qualifications, not irrelevant characteristics unrelated to job performance such as sexuality.

Strong opposition from conservatives has blocked passage of ENDA. Some fear that adding federal workplace protections for gays and lesbians would be a costly burden to small business owners. Others believe that the matter should not be handled at the federal level and instead should be left to the states. Social conservatives argue that legislation should not support a homosexual lifestyle, that it is an attack on the free exercise of religion, and that ENDA threatens freedom of association. They believe that an employment is a form of association that should freely be chosen by both sides.

Prospects for the ENDA's passage are not good. Other issues, notably that of gay marriage, have drawn attention away from the issue of antigay workplace discrimination. The General Accounting Office in 2000 found that there had been no marked increase in lawsuits in states that prohibit antigay workplace dis-crimination, perhaps indicating a shift in attitudes about gays and lesbians in the workplace.



Friskopp, Annette, and Sharon Silverstein. Straight Jobs, Gay Lives: Gay and Lesbian Professionals, the Harvard Business School and the American Workplace. New York: Scribners's, 1995.

Raeburn, Nicole C. Changing Corporate America from Inside Out: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Rights. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Web sites

Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Government. "Addressing Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Federal Civilian Employment: A Guide to Employee's Rights." 〈http://www.opm.gov/er/address2/guide01.asp〉; (accessed March 15, 2006).

Audio and Visual Media

Anderson, Kelly, and Tami Gold Out at Work. Frameline, 1996.

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U.S. Department of Labor Equal Employment Opportunity Policy