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Posts for March, 2010

VA Gov Issues Non-Reversing “Reversal” on Anti-Discrimination Ban

Jim Burroway

March 11th, 2010

One week after Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) ordered state universities to drop sexual orientation from their nondiscrimination policies, and nearly a month after Gov. Robert F. McDonnell signed an executive order dropping sexual orientation from the state’s anti-discrimination policies, Gov. McDonnell has now reversed his position, but not his executive order.

Gov. McDonnell’s new directive states:

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. 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.”

Gov. McDonnell’s executive order last month dropping sexual orientation from the state’s nondiscrimination policies has the effect of law among state employees, including state universities. But Gov. McDonnell’s new directive does not. It merely states the formal position of the governor himself. This gives the Attorney General all the legal maneuvering room he needs to issue this statement “applauding” the governor’s directive:

“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.”

In other words, Cuccinelli recognizes that the governor’s latest statement does not have the force of law, but merely “sets the tone.” As Delegate Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) said, McDonnell’s directive carries no force and is no more than a “press release with fluff around it.”

There is some speculation that this fig leaf was put in place to try to impress the defense giant Northrop Grumman, which is considering moving its headquarters from Los Angeles to the Washington, D.C. area. Maryland, Virginia and the District are actively competing to win the company’s favor. Northrop Grumman enjoys a 100% rating in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. Among the many considerations that Northrop is facing is that Maryland’s policies are more in line with the company’s own policies. Says Maryland State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery):

Here in Maryland, we value our gay and lesbian citizens as part of a diverse population that makes the state strong. Virginia is doing the opposite and letting its LGBT citizens — and those considering whether to move and work there — know that they and their families are unwelcome second-class citizens. And they are counting on corporations like yours not to care.

Indeed, while there are efforts in Virginia’s legislature to pass a nonbinding resolution expressing the opinion that Virginia “maintains an ecumenical atmosphere in its sexual orientation hiring policies in the private and public workforce,” that resolution would not have an effect on Virginia’s nondiscrimination law. And even that nonbinding statement, which passed in Virginia’s Senate as part of a package of incentives intended to lure Northrop and other employers, is being stymied in Virginia’s lower House.