Last year was a landmark year for the gay marriage movement, and now this year, supporters are turning the tide on rights in the workplace. Some 10 major Michigan businesses are spearheading a campaign to amend the state’s civil rights act to prohibit employee discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Currently, Michigan is one of 29 states that allows an employer to legally fire someone based on his or her sexual orientation; employee discrimination based on gender identity is also legal. But state business leaders from AT&T Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Consumers Energy, Dow Chemical Co., Google, Herman Miller, PADNOS, Steelcase, Strategic Staffing Solutions and Whirlpool Corporation are aiming to change that by forming the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, according to MLive.com.
The state law outlawing employee discrimination — the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 (ELCRA) — extends only to religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status. Business leaders like AT&T Michigan’s Jim Murray, a Republican, believe that should include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, too.
“We need to find ways in Michigan to keep and attract talent, and there are some barriers to that and this happens to be one of them,” Murray said.
Overwhelmingly, more than 75 percent of Michigan residents back the idea of adding sexual orientation to state law, which includes a majority of Republicans and small business owners, according to a recent poll. Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights released a report last year that found excluding LGBT protection hurts the state’s pool of talent as well as its economy. By refusing to update the law, the state loses competitive advantage in keeping some of its college graduates as well as professionals, too.
While there’s no legislation on the table yet, the coalition has pledged to push lawmakers into a meaningful conversation about the amendment. Previous efforts, which include a proposed bill in the Senate in 2012 and in the House in 2009, failed to receive a floor vote. But late last year Republican Governor Rick Snyder said he’s open to to the idea.
“This is the right time to do it and the right thing to do, and I’m hoping that the Legislature can be brave enough to do it,” said Shelly Padnos, the executive vice president of coalition member PADNOS.
Padnos, who previously worked for the House of Republicans but now identifies as an Independent, points out that ELCRA was passed by a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats who understood that equality was important to Michigan’s economic future. Hopefully, that attitude continues to resonate with the legislature today.