Where We Are Today
In Michigan today it is perfectly legal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote someone – because an employer thinks they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. There are numerous documented incidents of individuals being fired for this reason, regardless of job performance. Once fired, these individuals are left with no legal recourse.
It’s also legal to deny LGBT people rental housing or to refuse to serve them in stores, restaurants, and other public accommodations. As is the case with job discrimination, LGBT individuals are offered no protection under state law, and thus have few options when facing discriminatory practices in housing or services.
House Bill 5039
Michigan House Bill 5039 was introduced in 2011 by Representative Tom McMillin. It prohibits municipalities from adopting nondiscrimination ordinances that include LGBT residents. This ill-conceived bill hurts municipal governments across the state and thousands of voters are standing up to oppose it. It would take away local control and set 15 Michigan cities back to an era when it was OK to fire an employee just because they’re gay or transgender. So far, several cities have passed resolutions opposing the bill, including Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Lansing, and Traverse City.
How did we get here?
Michigan’s non-discrimination law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, was written and passed in 1976. The law bans discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight and marital status. Attempts have been made to amend the act to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression over the last ten years. So far, these efforts have been met with little success.
The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act has proved to be effective in changing social attitudes and it has been amended several times to protect groups not originally named in the act. Most recently, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm signed Public Act 190, a 2009 amendment that increased employment protections for pregnant workers. [i] Court decisions have also affected the act. For example, in Zanni v. Medaphis Physician Services Corp. in 2000, a special panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits age discrimination against younger employees and job applicants. [ii] These additions provide precedent for amending the law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
Discrimination affects thousands
It’s a common misunderstanding that it is illegal to discriminate against LGBT workers and individuals or that such discrimination hardly ever happens in the 21st century.
The facts simply show the opposite. In 2007, the Michigan Fair Housing Centers conducted an investigation into housing discrimination against LGBT people and sent 120 paired individuals posing as same-sex couples to attempt to rent housing throughout the state. The results of the investigation indicated that discrimination against same-sex couples was “widespread,” even after controlling for factors like race, education, and economic status. [iii]
Workplace discrimination also occurs every day. Each year, Equality Michigan’s Department of Victim Services tracks at least 50 cases of employment discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Under Michigan law, these people have no viable legal options for challenging their terminations.
In addition to affecting individuals, Michigan’s discriminatory climate hurts efforts to position the state as an inclusive and welcoming place to do business. 89% of the nation’s Fortune 500 employers, including General Motors, Ford, AT&T and Hewlett-Packard, have non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation. Employers like these seek to attract and retain a diverse workforce in states where all people are treated fairly under the law.
Inclusion is also good for the business community’s bottom line. The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce reported that, as of 2007, the buying power of the LGBT community stood at $712 billion. [iv]
Equality Michigan is forming Action Teams throughout the state in order to implement our strategic plan to end legal discrimination against LGBT people in Michigan. For more information contact Roland Leggett, our Director of Field Organizing, at rol...@equalitymi.org or 313-537-7000 x114.
[i] American Association of Employees, “Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act Maternity Protections Broadened,” Jan., 2010: http://aseonline.org/epeopleweek/2010/January/ElliotLarsenCivilRightsActMaternity.aspx
[ii] Findlaw, “Michigan Court Of Appeals Rules That Elliott-Larsen Act Protects Younger Workers,” April 2000: http://library.findlaw.com/2000/Apr/1/131676.html
[iv] National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, “Report: LGBT Buying Power at $712 Billion:” http://www.nglcc.org/BIZ/financial/buyingpower