Bills Aim to Make Veterans a Protected Class in Housing, Employment Discrimination Laws

Lawmakers have renewed a bipartisan, bicameral effort to get veterans added to the list of those protected by law against housing or employment discrimination.

Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) introduced a bill last year to end housing discrimination against service members and veterans, but it had no co-sponsors and died in committee. In the House, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) introduced the Veterans, Women, Families with Children, and Persons With Disabilities Housing Fairness Act of 2011, drawing progressive co-sponsors but not making it out of committee.

This time, the effort is focused squarely on vets and is coordinated between the upper and lower chambers as well as veterans organizations.

In the Senate, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the Veterans and Service Members Employment Rights and Housing Act of 2013, which would allow veterans who feel they've been discriminated against because of their military service the right to appeal their grievances to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It would amend the Fair Housing Act, which currently aims to protect people discriminated against "because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin" to add ‘‘or because the person is a member of the uniformed services."

“Shamefully, veterans who served our country return from deployment and too often struggle to find a job or a place to call home,” Blumenthal said. “By making military service a protected status, this bill will ensure that those who sacrificed to keep us safe are not discriminated against when they return home.”

In the House, Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced a companion bill, the Servicemember and Veterans Employment Rights and Housing Act, with a Republican co-sponsor: Jim Renacci of Ohio.

“Our service members have fought hard to protect the freedoms we are so blessed to enjoy in America, often risking their lives in the process,” said Renacci. “Under no circumstances should the brave men and women of our Armed Forces face job or housing discrimination based on the service they provided our country, especially considering the sacrifices their families have already made in their absence."

"I am proud to join with this bipartisan group of representatives and senators to ensure our veterans are not punished once they return home having safely completed their missions.”

Some states already have laws on the books offering veterans legal protection or making veterans a protected class, as in Washington state.

The bill's proponents argue that a comprehensive federal law is needed to protect vets from discrimination, even though some cases may fall under current statutes including the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. That law, they say, still isn't covering reservists who miss out on job opportunities or promotions because employers are wary of future deployments, and doesn't cover housing discrimination at all.

Last year, Iraq War vet Joel Morgan sued a landlord in Boston for refusing to rent to him because she was anti-war.

"Because of what you told me about the Iraq war … we are very adamant about our beliefs … it’s just not comfortable for us … and I’m sure now that you know this, it would not be comfortable for you," the landlord allegedly said in a voicemail to Morgan. "I would suggest you do the right thing and look for a place less politically active or controversial."