Metro Council members who oppose an update to the nondiscrimination ordinance — only one vote away from becoming law — are offering an alternative they say goes further than the current proposal.
Councilmen Phil Claiborne, Sam Coleman and Duane Dominy have proposed an ordinance on second reading at the Sept. 15 meeting, which would make it unlawful to discriminate against Metro workers or those seeking employment for “non-merit-based” reasons.
Metro legal department is already on record as saying the new proposal lacks enforcement power.
The bill was filed to compete with a proposal from at-large Councilwoman Megan Barry, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected by the Metro nondiscrimination ordinance. Barry’s proposal has advanced two readings on Council and is on the verge of becoming part of the Metro code.
Supporters of Barry’s bill say the new nondiscrimination policy’s value comes in the fact that it explicitly protects sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I think any time you deal with a subject this serious and this complicated, it’s helpful to be as explicit as you can be,” said District 7 Councilman Erik Cole, one of the co-sponsors of Barry’s bill.
Shortly after the alternative ordinance was filed by members who believed it was inappropriate to create new protected classes the Metro Legal Department wrote an opinion stating it lacked enforcement power.
“This ordinance would not result in any new protections for applicants or employees of the Metropolitan Government,” Metro Director of Law Sue Cain wrote in a memo concerning the alternative nondiscrimination ordinance.
In response, the bill’s sponsors have prepared an amendment that lists potential classes which could be discriminated against for non-merit-based reasons. The list adds sexual orientation, but not gender identity, as non-merit-based reasons for which a Metro worker could be discriminated against.
“My basic motivation for doing this is if we as a Metro government are going to have a nondiscrimination policy… then we need to have a nondiscrimination policy that is applicable to all Metro employees,” Claiborne said. “It simply is not fair to have a policy that lists one group of people up and says, ‘You’re special and we’re going to give you special protection that we’re not going to give anybody else in Metro.’”
Claiborne’s amendment is patterned after the policy passed in Washington D.C., which states:
“It is the intent of the Council of the District of Columbia, in enacting this chapter, to secure an end in the District of Columbia to discrimination for any reason other than that of individual merit, including, but not limited to, discrimination by reason of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, genetic information, disability, source of income, status as a victim of an intrafamily offense, and place of residence or business.”
Barry’s proposed ordinance offers workers who believe they have been discriminated against the opportunity to file complaints with the Metro Human Relations Commission. The commission has already expressed its support for Barry’s proposal.
Claiborne said it was his belief workers could file non-merit-based discrimination complaints with the Metro Human Relations Commission under his proposed amendment as well.
Claiborne and Coleman asked Barry to defer her bill so the two proposals could be considered by Council at the same time, but Barry has decided to move her legislation forward.
Cole said it was his opinion that the two proposals are not mutually exclusive.
“I think you could certainly pass this ordinance and then we could look at [the Coleman-Claiborne-Dominy] ordinance and approve it as well,” he said.