City Council explores adding groups to nondisrimination policy

The Charlotte City Council voted Monday for city staff to explore adding new protected groups to its existing nondiscrimination ordinances, including marital status, sexual orientation and gender expression.

If the council approves the changes, the measure would primarily impact how the city awards contracts. Currently, city policy is that it won’t award contracts to firms that have been found to discriminate against some groups, including on the basis of race and ethnicity. Under the changes, if a company has been found by the city to discriminate on the basis of the marital status or how someone expresses his or her gender, the city could choose not to do business with it.

Scott Bishop of the Human Rights Campaign made a presentation to the City Council at the request of members LaWana Mayfield and Patsy Kinsey.

“We think Charlotte should treat all citizens fairly,” Bishop said.

Before he left as city manager roughly two years ago, Curt Walton updated the city’s internal nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and “actual or perceived gender.” It does not includemarital status.

The change would raise some questions, and some council members asked that city staff make a detailed presentation before the full council takes a vote. The city currently offers health benefits for opposite-sex married couples as well as same-sex partners. If the city approved an ordinance against discrimination based on marital status, it’s possible the city would have to expand health benefits to cover opposite-sex partners who aren’t married.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann said he would have to study that issue further.

Council member Ed Driggs said he supported the general concept of expanding the non-discrimination ordinances. But he said the city needs to explore in detail some issues, including how businesses would deal with how people who express their gender differently would use restrooms.

The expansion would also affect the city’s ordinance on “public accommodations.”

Currently the city prohibits discrimination by a business open to the public – such as a restaurant or hotel – based on categories such as race and ethnicity. The change would expand the groups covered by that ordinance.

Hagemann said it’s difficult for the city to enforce that existing ordinance.

Some council members wanted to vote on the changes by Dec. 8, but Hagemann said his staff can’t research the issue fully by then.