Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Bob Roehr
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Office of the Special Counsel will not be rolling back employment protections for gay and lesbian federal employees. That became clear in a statement the OSC released on April 8 that brought an end to two months of growing discontent.
The obscure office has the responsibility of protecting 1.7 million federal employees from discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. The Senate had confirmed Scott J. Bloch to a five-year term that began on January 5, 2004 after the social conservative had testified that he would protect the rights of gay federal employees.
But on February 12, Federal GLOBE, the umbrella group of GLBT federal employees, charged that OSC had “removed references to sexual orientation from its basic brochure, its complaint form, a two-page flyer entitled ‘Your Rights as a Federal Employee,’ and a set of training slides.” It called the actions “political pandering to the conservative right” that send “a chilling message” to gay federal employees.
Bloch responded to press inquiries by saying that he was reviewing the non-discrimination policy. He believes his predecessors might have overstepped their authority. He told the Federal Times that action such as attending a gay pride event would be protected, but sexual orientation might not be.
That drew letters of concern from gay and lesbian groups and from key members of both houses of Congress. On March 31, Rep Barney Frank led a news conference at the Capitol that included Reps Tammy Baldwin, George Miller, Eliot Engel, and Sen. Barbara Boxer urging Bloch to reverse his actions.
The White House weighed in almost immediately saying that government policy “prohibits discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation.” President Bush “expects federal agencies to enforce this policy.”
But all of the parties were in a bit of a bind because Block’s position was created to be insulated from political pressure. He can only be removed for cause through a process similar to impeaching a judge.
The impasse was resolved on April 8 when OSC released a statement on review of the statutory basis of its authority with regard to sexual orientation. Bloch said, “It is the policy of this administration that discrimination in the federal workforce on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited.”
“OSC has concluded that such authority exists in cases other than actual conduct when reasonable grounds exist to infer that those engaging in discriminatory acts on the basis of sexual orientation have discriminated on the basis of imputed private conduct.”
“We believe this will return the OSC’s policies and procedures back to where they were before the review started,” said Leonard Hirsch, president of Federal GLOBE. The group thanked “the President and the Special Council for their strong reiteration of the policy.”
Hirsch said it was “the first time the Bush administration has clearly stated the policy. He vowed to work closely with them “to make the words reality.”
“We are pleased that Mr. Bloch has reaffirmed the long-standing policy that provides protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal employment matters,” Reps. Frank, Miller, and Baldwin said in a statement released on April 9.
“It is vitally important that all federal employees be judged solely on their ability to perform their assigned jobs, and sexual orientation discrimination clearly has no place in such a system.” They urged him to restore the statements that had been removed to the website and other documents.
Human Rights Campaign president Cheryl Jacques called it “an encouraging sign…No employer should be given a pass on discrimination.”