Questions Raised in U.S. House Committee Discrimination Bill Hearing

October 18, 2007 ( - In his opening comments before the House Education and Labor Committee, Senior Republican Member Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-California) raised questions on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007, saying he believes legislators "have not addressed the most elemental questions about the legislation itself."

In his statement, McKeon questioned the provision of the bill prohibiting employment discrimination because of an individual’s “perceived” sexual orientation.  “This vague term is not defined anywhere in this bill, increases employer liability and will needlessly require litigation on the meaning of this term and how it applies to the workplace,” McKeon said.

McKeon added that under this provision anyone of any sexual orientation can claim to have been discriminated against because of their perceived sexual orientation and questioned how an employer could credibly refute the accusation and whether employers should begin keeping records of their perceptions of employees’ sexual orientation. 

Additionally, because the term is not contained in the existing civil rights statute that protects against discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, McKeon said he does not believe such a radical departure from the Civil Rights Act is justified.

McKeon also expressed concern about the bill’s provision exempting religious schools, colleges, and universities from certain non-discrimination in hiring directives only if they are “controlled, managed, owned, or supported by a particular religion, religious corporation, association, or society” or if their curriculum “is directed toward the propagation of a particular religion.”

The lawmaker said there are some 900 colleges and universities in the country that describe themselves as religiously affiliated, but of the 102 institutions that are members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, nearly one-quarter are identified as having “No Official Denominational Affiliation or Religious Affiliation.”

McKeon said the number of schools excluded from the religious exemption under the new bill may be much larger than the number excluded under the current law.

The proosal, which bars workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, has garnered support from 32 co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle. It was reintroduced in the House in May (See Sexual Orientation Discrimination Measure Enters Congress, Again ).