Kan.: Anti-discrimination Protection for State Employees Rescinded by Governor

By Rosemarie Lally May 18, 2015
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A pair of executive orders signed Feb. 10, 2015, by Gov. Sam Brownback revoked protections for state employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity that had been in place for the past seven years.

In the first order, Executive Order 15-01, Brownback rescinded an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity that had been issued in August 2007 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The former governor’s executive order applied to hiring and employment decisions by state agencies under the governor’s direct control and also required creation of anti-harassment policies.

In rescinding Sebelius’ executive order, Brownback criticized it as having “unilaterally established additional ‘protected class rights’ for state employees, specifically for sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Brownback’s second issuance, Executive Order 15-02, “reaffirms [Kansas’] commitment” to employment practices that do not discriminate on the basis of “race, color, gender, religion, national origin, ancestry, or age.”

“This Executive Order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did,” Brownback said. “Any such expansion of ‘protected classes’ should be done by the legislature and not through unilateral action. The order also reaffirms our commitment to hiring, mentoring and recognizing veterans and individuals with disabilities.”

In response to Brownback’s action, Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, is pursuing expansion of Kansas’ law to prohibit bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but there has been little interest from the Republican-dominated legislature.

Federal employees are protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity under Executive Order 11478 issued by President Barack Obama July 21, 2014, but only 21 states have similar protections in place for public employees.

Rosemarie Lally, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.

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