Last week, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce joined their companion organizations in Omaha and Lincoln in endorsing amending Nebraska’s fair employment statute to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Proponents of expanding civil rights protections to LGBT Nebraskans have pitched this proposition as an economic development tool meant to keep and attract younger Nebraskans who would otherwise flee a state that allows discrimination not allowed in other states.
Maybe I’ve spent too much time tangling in the trenches with lawyers for Nebraska’s big businesses. Maybe I’m just a Bernie Bro. Maybe both, but I have a hard time keeping my eyes from rolling when I hear the “Open for Business” approach to civil rights parroted by professional progressives in our state’s unicameral and mini-Beltway. (Lincoln has a K Street with tons of lobbyists offices, just like D.C.)
I mean for-you-know-what’s sake, any employment protections endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce are bound to be milquetoast at best.
But let’s assume some merit to the “Open for Business” approach. Let’s assume civil rights laws are an economic tool. How else could civil rights laws in Nebraska be amended to help attract and keep young people in Nebraska?
How about amending our age discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination against younger workers?
Miami (of Ohio) University Professor Megan Gerhardt argued for this in a recent opinion piece for NBC News. I made a similar argument in a blog post last year. In that post, I pointed out that at least Canadian province protects workers as young as 18 in their age discrimination laws. I also pointed out that since younger workers tend to get hurt more, anti-youth bias is a way to discriminate against injured workers.
I can tell you from first hand experience, that many business types talk about “millennials” or young people in a way that would get them successfully sued even in a jurisdiction like Nebraska, if they spoke like that about a group protected under our civil rights laws.
If Nebraska really wants to keep and attract younger workers, we should amend our age discrimination laws to protect younger workers. While I support expanding our state’s employment laws to protect LGBT Nebraskans, any comparative advantage Nebraska would get in expanding those laws would be lessened if the Supreme Court expands federal civil rights law to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Questioning by Justice Neil Gorsuch at oral argument in October 2019 on the issue has many LGBT rights advocates optimistic that the court will expand Title VII.
By expanding our age discrimination laws to include younger employees, Nebraska would truly be innovative. Nebraska is unique among states in having a one house (unicameral) and non-partisan legislature. This unique legislative body should start passing some more unique laws.