A California bill was introduced Thursday that prohibits state agencies from doing business with companies that discriminate against their employees based on gender identity, including by denying transgender workers the same benefits and health care coverage they offer all other workers.
Introduced by Senator Mark Leno, Senate Bill 703 builds on existing California law that prohibits employers from discriminating based on gender, including gender identity, in employee benefits. Sponsored by NCLR, EQCA, and TLC, the bill prohibits a state agency from entering into a contract in the amount of $100,000 or more with any company that discriminates based on gender identity by failing to offer equal benefits to all employees regardless of their gender identity.
Leno said, “California law already stipulates that employers cannot deny transgender people health care and other benefits, but a loophole in state law allows companies that contract with the state to refuse equal health coverage,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “This bill closes that loophole. Denying equal benefits to employees at the same company based on their gender identity is harmful and wrong. It can also jeopardize their health and strain publicly-funded programs that fill in the gaps when employers don’t provide the same benefits to all employees.”
Equal benefit laws, starting with San Francisco’s landmark equal benefits law passed in 1996, are credited with the rapid expansion of benefits for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees and creating a marketplace for insurance companies to start offering policies providing benefits for same-sex couples.
“By ensuring that the state contract only with companies that provide equal benefits to their transgender employees, the state of California will save money and help reduce discrimination. Equal benefits laws for employees with same-sex partners have dramatically expanded the number of employees in same-sex relationships who now receive equal benefits, and this bill will do the same for transgender employees,” said Geoff Kors, NCLR’s Government Policy Director who drafted San Francisco’s Equal Benefits Ordinance in his former role as legislative chair of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.
EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur said, “This legislation closes an outdated gap in state law that has allowed some private companies to treat transgender people unfairly. No employee should be denied equal medical coverage or other benefits simply because of who they are.”
Transgender Law Center Executive Director Kris Hayashi added, “Denying transgender people equal access to health care puts us at serious risk for negative health outcomes and financial hardship. Providing equal benefits will help protect transgender workers and our families. It also makes economic sense for the state and employers, which will benefit from increased employee morale, productivity and retention.”
California, eight other states and the District of Columbia all ban transgender exclusions in health insurance. In addition, both Medicare and Medi-Cal provide coverage to transgender people and more than 25 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer equal health benefits regardless of gender identity.
SB 703 was introduced on February 27. The bill will be heard this spring in Senate policy committees.