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February 23, 2015 Practice Points

Will Nebraska Be the Next State to Ban LGBT Workplace Discrimination?

By James D. Macri

The ongoing debate between religious freedom and LGBT rights continues to play out not only in the courtroom but also in the legislature. The full Nebraska legislature will hear debates on a bill banning sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.

Legislative Bill 586 would prevent employers from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. A similar bill was introduced last year, but it was blocked by a filibuster. This year's version contains an exemption for religious corporations.

The bill has had an interesting journey coming out of the Judiciary Committee where it started. Originally, on February 10, the Committee voted 5–2 to advance the bill with the religious exemption that was added that day. The approval included a vote to advance by Omaha Senator Bob Krist.

However, the next day, Krist said he changed his mind and wanted the bill to return to committee. After voting, Krist had second thoughts when another Senator made comments that Krist perceived as offensive to the Catholic Church. Krist said he became concerned about a provision which exempted religious groups. He did not feel it would be effective.

The other Senator, Ernie Chambers, said he forgot what he said that was perceived as offensive, but if it were up to him, the bill would have no exceptions. Chambers said religious beliefs should never prevent a bill from advancing.

On February 12, Krist said he would let his original vote stand. Instead, Krist said he would take up his concerns during the first round of debates on the legislature floor. If the bill passes, Nebraska will join the twenty-one other states that have banned either sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, or both.

Keywords: Minority Trial Lawyer; LGBT discrimination; workplace rights; religious freedom

James D. Macri is an associate at Goldberg Segalla in Buffalo, New York.

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