State Agencies Submit Public Comment Opposing the U.S. Department of Labor's Proposed Expansion of "Religious Exemptions" for Federal Contractors
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced opposition to the federal government's proposed rule change that would broadly expand the definition of "religious exemptions" for federal contractors and make it easier for those entities to discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. The U.S. Department of Labor's proposed rule would have devastating consequences for LGBTQ and other workers by depriving them of vitally important workplace protections. The New York Division of Human Rights and the New York Department of Labor joined together in submitting public comment in opposition to the proposed rule change. The public comment also makes clear that no matter what happens at the federal level, employers in New York State cannot discriminate against a person for being LGBTQ or for any other category protected under the State's Human Rights Law.
"Time and again the Trump administration has gone out of its way to curtail the hard-earned rights and protections of the LGBTQ community," Governor Cuomo said. "This proposed rule would give federal contractors license to discriminate - plain and simple - and it is repugnant to our values of equal protection for every New Yorker, and we will fight it."
"As the birthplace of the LGBTQ rights movement, we stand together with the LGBTQ community against discrimination and hate," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "In New York, we will not stop fighting for LGBTQ rights and protections. The federal government's proposal to allow discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in the workplace is incomprehensible and will not be tolerated. We are proud to support our LGBTQ community and push back against those who threaten to divide us."
On August 15, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a proposed change to the rules governing equal employment opportunity in federal government contracting. The proposed change would greatly expand the narrow exemptions for religious organizations receiving federal government contracts and make it easier for a wide array of federal contractors to condition terms of employment on adherence to certain religious beliefs or tenets, even if those federal contractors are not operated or supervised by a religious institution. The proposed rule would roll back protections that the Obama administration had put into place to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ workers, and it would place millions of LGBTQ, women, religious minorities, and people of color at risk of discrimination. The proposed rule would also cause confusion among employers that are contractors with both the federal government and New York State, since the religious exemptions in the proposed rule are clearly inconsistent with New York's anti-discrimination laws.
New York State Division of Human Rights Commissioner Angela Fernandez said, "The proposed rule's unnecessarily broad expansion of religious exemptions for federal contractors will only lead to discrimination and harassment of LGBTQ workers and other vulnerable populations. Regardless of what the federal government does, the Division will continue to enforce the Human Rights Law against any employer that unlawfully denies employment or otherwise discriminates against an individual covered by a protected class."
Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said, "The federal government should not be expanding the means for an employer to discriminate against any employee. The New York State Department of Labor continues to work to ensure that all New Yorkers have a safe and discrimination free work environment."
Today's action is the latest step in Governor Cuomo's commitment to further protections and equality for New York's LGBTQ community. This past August, the Governor announced multi-agency opposition to the federal government's proposed rollback of healthcare protections for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, with the New York State Department of Financial Services, Division of Human Rights and the Office of Children and Family Services calling on the federal government to abandon the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposal that would undermine discrimination protections for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals and limit the types of insurance that must comply with the Affordable Care Act's nondiscrimination protections. In June, the Governor signed legislation banning the use of the "gay and trans panic" defense in criminal proceedings. In January, Governor Cuomo signed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, landmark legislation that prohibits employers, educational institutions, landlords, creditors, and others from discrimination against individuals on the basis of gender identity or expression.