UPDATED: McDonnell directive prohibits discrimination on basis of sexual orientation
Hoping to quell a growing uproar on Virginia's college campuses over gay rights, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) issued a directive to all 102,000 state employees Wednesday that prohibits discrimination in the state work force, including on the basis of sexual orientation, and warns he will reprimand or fire anyone who engages in it.
McDonnell's directive comes a week after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli distributed a letter to the state's public colleges and universities asking them to remove references to sexual orientation from their campus nondiscrimination policies. Cuccinelli argues only the General Assembly has the authority to extend legal protections to gays.
McDonnell has said he supports the legal reasoning of that opinion, which mirrored his own advice on the issue as attorney general. The governor said Wednesday he continues to believe that without legislative approval, universities and state agencies cannot issue orders that would allow employees or others the ability to sue in state court over discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
And, in a departure from his Democratic predecessor's stance, McDonnell last month issued an executive order, which carries the force of law, on the issue of workplace discrimination that did not include mention of sexual orientation.
But McDonnell said Wednesday that Cuccinelli's letter had caused confusion and anger among students, college presidents and others that he could address with a clear statement opposing discrimination and a promise to use the human resources process to punish an employee found to have shown bias.
The directive is a formal statement of McDonnell's position that hiring, promotion, compensation, treatment, discipline and termination of state employees can be based only on an individual's job qualifications, merit and performance.
"We will not tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation or any other basis that's outlawed under state or federal law or the constitution, and if it is reported, then I will take action, from reprimand to termination, to make sure that does not occur,"
McDonnell told reporters late Wednesday afternoon. "I believe this properly takes care of it and assures the good people of Virginia that we will absolutely not have discrimination in this state."
Describing his statement as a call for "civility and fair treatment," McDonnell said he was encouraging universities and independent state agencies to adopt policies or clarify their existing nondiscrimination statements to ensure they can enforce his directive.
The statement was the most forceful yet on gay issues for McDonnell, who was elected in November on a pledge to focus his energy on jobs and the economy while still upholding conservative social values. McDonnell's move may indicate a split over strategy with Cuccinelli, whose political philosophy he broadly shares.
In a brief statement, however, Cuccinelli applauded McDonnell for the "tone he is setting for the Commonwealth of Virginia."
"I will remain in contact with the Governor and continue to work with him on issues important to Virginians," Cuccinelli's statement continued. "I expect Virginia's state employees to follow all state and federal anti-discrimination laws and will enforce Virginia's laws to the fullest extent."
UPDATE: There's a lot of reaction coming in to this directive.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli: " I applaud Governor McDonnell for the tone he is setting for the Commonwealth of Virginia. I will remain in contact with the Governor and continue to work with him on issues important to Virginians. I expect Virginia's state employees to follow all state and federal anti-discrimination laws and will enforce Virginia's laws to the fullest extent.
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said: "In recent days, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a letter to Virginia's colleges and universities informing them that their internal employment discrimination policies could not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation because such prohibitions were not authorized under state law. While the Attorney General's legal advice is consistent with that of other Attorneys General before him, it has created some understandable confusion and concern. Earlier today, Governor McDonnell issued a directive reiterating the policy of our administration as it relates to important employment practices. I agree wholeheartedly with that statement."
UVa. President John Casteen said in a statement: "This directive's eloquence and clarity set it apart from many policy statements that come from all sorts of sources. Perhaps needless to say, I am personally grateful to the Governor for it. This had become an uncommonly troubling issue, one that cuts to the core of our common claims to the most fundamental kinds of personal security under the rule of law. Discussion will undoubtedly continue, as it should in a free society that thrives on open discourse. But as rightly alarmed as many of us and I myself were by last week's Attorney General's letter, I was struck through the week by the wisdom and dignity of the discussion that occurred. Let us hope that the subsequent discussion will rise to the level of the model struck in the directive."
Equality Virginia has said: "Equality Virginia is gratified that the Governor has responded positively to our call for action. The Governor took a major positive step forward today
toward assuring that gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender workers will
not be subject to discrimination in state employment. Equality Virginia
applauds his implementation of a "standard of conduct" that recognizes that
discrimination based on sexual orientation is unconstitutional and
establishes a strict prohibition against such discrimination in the state
workforce. At the same time, however, the directive is silent regarding
discrimination based on gender identity, and does not afford any protection
to students at our state colleges and universities, so it is clear that
there is much work still to be done."
The Democratic Party of Virginia is not impressed. Executive Director David Mills said: "While we applaud the administrative gesture made by Governor McDonnell today, his non-binding statement of policy does little to protect Virginians from discrimination. The Governor is instituting half-measures necessitated by political crisis, and the time for these games is over. We call on Governor McDonnell to definitively and permanently eliminate the threat that discrimination poses to the lives, jobs, and welfare of all Virginians.
"Rather than play legal games, Governor McDonnell should just send down a bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Under Governors Warner and Kaine, Virginia became the best state for business by enacting the tolerant policies that attract world-class employers to our Commonwealth. No matter how many administrative gestures he makes, the fact remains that Bob McDonnell and his Ken Cuccinelli have rolled back protections against discrimination."
This is just a sampling. We've already received notes from the Log Cabin Republicans, the president of the College of William and Mary and the Northern Virginia Technology Council, all supporting McDonnell.
Rosalind S. Helderman
March 10, 2010; 7:16 PM ET
Categories: Ken Cuccinelli , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman
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