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Apple's Tim Cook urges Senate vote on workplace equality

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Cook exhorts the US Senate to support the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which aims to protect the hiring and employment rights of gay and lesbian Americans.

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook stopped by the Apple Store in Palo Alto, Calif., for the launch of the iPhone 5S. James Martin/CNET

Apple CEO Tim cook is calling on Congress to pass a bill that seeks to offer protection against workplace policies and practices that create disadvantages based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In an op-ed piece published online Sunday by The Wall Street Journal, Cook urges the Senate to support the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, or ENDA, and calls on the House of Representatives to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

The bill, S. 815, is reportedly up for a vote in the Senate on Monday.

ENDA seeks to extend to gay, lesbian, and transgender workers the federal protections on hiring and employment that already cover gender, race, religion, disability, and other personal characteristics.

"So long as the law remains silent on the workplace rights of gay and lesbian Americans," Cook wrote, "we as a nation are effectively consenting to discrimination against them."

Cook described the benefits of the legislation as accruing to both the individual and the employer:

As we see it, embracing people's individuality is a matter of basic human dignity and civil rights. It also turns out to be great for the creativity that drives our business. We've found that when people feel valued for who they are, they have the comfort and confidence to do the best work of their lives.

He cited Apple's antidiscrimination policy as already a step ahead of the government's by offering protections to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.

Writing for the Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post, Jeff Lax and Justin Phillips said that a version of the bill last came to a vote in the Senate in 1996, falling short in a narrow defeat (49-50), and that this time around, it will need at least 60 votes to overcome an expected Republican filibuster. The margin looks close again this time around, they said:

As of this week, ENDA has the support of the entire 55-member Democratic caucus. It also has the public support of four Republican senators: Susan Collins (Maine) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) are co-sponsors of the measure, while Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) both voted in favor of it in committee. That again leaves ENDA one vote shy of success, though Republican Sen. Bob Portman (Ohio) says he is leaning toward a "yes" vote.

Cook had high-level company in online media Sunday evening in exhorting the Senate and House to act in support of ENDA. President Obama likewise posted a call to action in the Huffington Post: "If more members of Congress step up, we can put an end to this form of discrimination once and for all."