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White House insists gay federal employees are protected

White House insists gay federal employees are protected

The White House reiterated Wednesday that lesbian and gay federal employees would not face workplace discrimination despite action taken in February by a Bush appointee that appeared to nullify part of the federal nondiscrimination policy. "Long-standing federal policy prohibits discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius told the San Francisco Chronicle. "President Bush expects federal agencies to enforce this policy and to ensure that all federal employees are protected from unfair discrimination at work." The statement was made after congressional Democrats demanded that Bush reverse a change to the policy that would strip lesbian and gay federal employees of additional legal recourse if they face discrimination on the job. Scott Bloch, head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, in early February removed references to sexual orientation from the agency's Web site, complaint forms, brochures, and training documents. Under the revised policy, gay federal employees may not be fired for conduct unrelated to their job performance, such as attending a parade, but can be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. Democrats said that the White House statement is a positive step but insist that the Administration should explicitly repudiate Bloch. "This is the first time they've said this, and we think it's a direct response to our efforts to put pressure on them to get an answer on this issue," Tom Kiley, spokesman for California congressman George Miller, told the Chronicle. "But what they haven't done is reconcile the fact that what they're saying today contradicts what Scott Bloch, who is a Bush appointee, is saying.... We're still looking for the president to say clearly that Scott Bloch's decision is not the policy of this administration." Bloch earlier told a radio interviewer that he was reversing the Clinton administration's decision to include sexual orientation in the agency's enforcement of discrimination laws because it "created a protected class based on orientation, which is not currently part of the civil rights law," which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, and national origin. Critics say the interpretation reversed more than two decades of federal policy. It also conflicts with former president Bill Clinton's executive order prohibiting workforce discrimination by the federal government on the basis of sexual orientation.

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