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Bias based on sexual orientation, gender identity. House Bill 5959, introduced on Nov. 14, 2014, would add sexual orientation to the list of protected criteria under the state’s antidiscrimination law (the current categories are religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, and marital status). The proposal has already been subject to criticism that it fails to protect gender identity.
For example, House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel said that “When it comes to legal protections for marginalized and targeted groups of people, we cannot compromise. No Michigander deserves to be denied employment or housing because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, and the civil rights of all of them must be protected. We can’t support any bill that falls short of that. Justice demands that we stand up for the rights and equality of all people, not just some of them.”
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 1053, which would protect against bias based on both sexual orientation and gender identity, was introduced on Sept. 11, 2014 and remains pending before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs.
Sexual harassment claims. House Bill 5972, introduced on Nov. 13, and assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, would lengthen the statute of limitations for the filing of sexual harassment claims, allowing 365 days from the last incident of harassment. The current statute of limitations is 180 days.
“Sexual harassment victims now have about six months to file a claim, which I don’t believe takes into account the seriousness of this crime and the effect that it can have on a victim,” said bill sponsor Rep. Sarah Roberts. “I think that giving victims a one year window to file claims will encourage more victims to come forward. Six months isn’t much time for a person to come to grips with what has happened and then to build up the courage to come forward and confront their harasser, who may be a colleague or even a boss.”
The bill is part of a three-bill package to update Michigan’s sexual harassment laws. Other parts of the proposal would require the state to keep harassment complainants’ identity confidential (a practice followed on the federal level by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and extend the time available to file independent lawsuits.
Certificates of employability. House Bills 5216, 5217, and 5218 advanced to their third reading in the Senate in late November 2014. The bills require the Department of Corrections to issue “certificates of employability” to departing prisoners who have achieved certain educational and behavioral goals in prison. Employers who hire applicants with such certificates would be able to use them as evidence of their due care in hiring. Employers would still, however, be expected to complete background checks where required by law, but would not have any affirmative duties or obligations toward employees with certificates of employability.
If enacted, the bills would be effective on Jan. 1, 2015.
Diane Cadrain is an attorney who has been writing about employment law issues for more than 20 years.
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