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Archive for Thursday, April 1, 2004

Democrats protest handling of gay discrimination policy

Lawrence appointee criticized for changes

April 1, 2004

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— A group of Democratic lawmakers wants President Bush to overturn a decision by one of his appointees to deny gay federal workers protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In a letter to Bush circulated Wednesday for signatures, the lawmakers derided a decision in February by Scott Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel, to remove references to sexual orientation from the agency's Web site and complaint forms.

The agency is charged with investigating and prosecuting federal employees' and job applicants' claims of discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation against whistleblowers.

"Mr. Bloch ought to find a new job. He ought to get fired," Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said at a news conference Wednesday. "President Bush should not tolerate this from someone he appointed."

The dispute hinges on the interpretation of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, which bars discrimination "on the basis of conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others."

Bloch, a former Lawrence, Kan., trial lawyer who took office in January, and people in his office on Wednesday declined to comment on the dispute.

But in a March interview with the Federal Times, a government-oriented Washington newsletter, Bloch said there was a distinction between sexual orientation and "conduct" as Congress wrote in the law.

"People confuse conduct and sexual orientation as the same thing, and I don't think they are," he told the newsletter. "One is a class ... and one is behavior."

Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay member of the House, said Bloch's interpretation sets up an impossible paradox for gay federal workers: "Either you remain totally in the closet, or you go marching in parades."

Frank, a Democrat, and Engel were joined in the letter to Bush by Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who called Bloch's decision "a shocking U-turn" from long-standing equal-rights policy.

"We cannot believe that you agree that individuals should be legally protected from being penalized in the federal workplace because they attend Gay Pride parades but should have no protection whatsoever simply for being gay or lesbian," the lawmakers wrote.

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