A proposed city ordinance to ban Dunwoody businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ people and includes a system to investigate allegations was greeted mostly by silence from council members at the May 20 meeting. A final vote is slated for June 10.
Councilmembers John Heneghan and Pam Tallmadge have proposed the ordinance that would ban local, privately-owned businesses from discriminating against people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. They said they researched the subject and introduced the ordinance after a gay constituent reached out to them asking them to do so.
The ordinance also prohibits discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, disability, marital status, familial status, or veteran/military status.
The first of two reads of the ordinance occurred at the May 20 meeting. But unlike most first read of ordinances, there was no discussion, debate or questions raised by council members. Only Heneghan and Tallmadge discussed the ordinance that would propose protections against discrimination for employment, housing or the provision of goods and services.
“We as human beings are all equals. Unfortunately, case law is not entirely settled in this area and in the eyes of the state of Georgia as well as the federal government there are not equal protections of the law against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Heneghan said in a prepared statement.
Tallmadge explained the ordinance would also put into writing the police department’s existing informal practice to receive training on hate crimes and report such crimes to federal authorities.
City Attorney Bill Riley described the process the ordinance puts in place with mediators and hearing officers appointed to investigate or dismiss allegations of discrimination. For example, if a hearing officer determines a complaint is unfounded, the complainant can be fined up to $1,000. However, if the hearing officer determines the alleged discrimination did occur, the violator could be fined $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for more offenses.
“This is a fairly standardized ordinance that has passed the constitutional scrutiny in other jurisdictions,” Riley said.
After the brief descriptions by Heneghan, Tallmadge and Riley, Mayor Denis Shortal quickly moved onto the next agenda item and said it would be placed on the consent agenda. Consent agendas are traditionally several items approved at one time with no discussion.
First reads of ordinances typically allow time for council members to ask questions about what is being proposed, get clarification on any matters they may be confused about and generally lays out the tone of what council members think and feel about an issue. In this case, only Tallmadge and Heneghan spoke in support.
If the ordinance is approved, the city would join the growing ranks of metro Atlanta cities putting such ordinances that include protections for LGBTQ people on their books. The municipal ordinances strike back at attempts by the General Assembly over the past several years to pass so-called “religious freedom” bills. Such a bill would essentially prohibit governments from restricting a person’s exercise of their religion. Opponents of the bill say the bill would lead to businesses discriminating against LGBTQ people.
In November, Doraville passed a nondiscrimination ordinance including protections for LGBTQ people, becoming only the second in the state to do so. The city of Atlanta was the first to do so all the way back in 2000. Doraville City Councilmember Stephe Koontz, a transgender woman, spearheaded the ordinance and said she hoped her city’s legislation would inspire other metro cities to do the same.
In April, the cities of Chamblee and Clarkston passed similar ordinances, citing Doraville’s ordinance. Their ordinances also ban local, privately-owned businesses from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity as well as against people based on their race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, age, ancestry and military status.
Last month, Brookhaven City Councilmember Linley Jones said she was asking the city attorney to review if the such an ordinance would be appropriate for Brookhaven after a gay resident asked the council to consider following the lead of Doraville, Chamblee and Clarkston.
The city of Sandy Springs had said it believes it lacks legal authority to create such an ordinance on private businesses. It has a policy that bans discrimination by city employees and contractors.