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Jax employment laws now prohibit discrimination for 'sexual orientation, gender identity or expression'

It was just a few months ago that Jacksonville’s Mayor directed his administration to bring all City employment-related laws in to compliance with state and federal anti-discrimination protections.

Now, a WOKV investigation is taking a closer look at what exactly that has meant- and how it could influence the “Human Rights Ordinance” debate moving forward.

The long running debate in Jacksonville has been whether to expand the HRO to include specific protections against discrimination for “sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression” in matters of employment, housing, and public accommodations. This expansion failed in 2012, but was brought back in 2015. Two competing bills were filed- one which would have the Council debate on whether to expand the HRO and one which would push the decision to the voters- and the City Council set up a series of special meetings dedicated only to vetting these bills. Mayor Lenny Curry also held a series of “community conversations” to hear from the public and panelists on the different impacts of voting for or against expansion.

Following the “conversations”, Curry issued a directive in January to ensure all policies and practices dealing with City employment would “preclude and prohibit all forms of employment discrimination upon any basis as currently interpreted by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” A few weeks later, the City Council withdrew the competing bills, with some Councilmen saying they wanted to see the impact of the directive before deciding how to move forward.

DOCUMENT: Mayor Lenny Curry's directive on City employment anti-discrimination measures

WOKV has now learned that, as a result of the directive, the same six words being debated for HRO expansion are now included in City employment-related laws.

A notice from the Employee Services Department dated late March updates the “City’s new nondiscrimination policy”. The “Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Statement of Policy”, “Employment Application”, and “Required federal and state bulletin board postings” through Jacksonville now includes protections against discrimination based on “sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression”- which was not included before the Mayor’s directive.

A “Nondiscrimination policy” has also been added to the City’s procurement manual- a brand new section lasting a few paragraphs at the end of the manual which outlines compliance with federal and state laws and requires contractors to have a “policy of nondiscrimination or harassment” with regard to a number of factors, including “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression”.

The directive deals specifically with employment-related matters, so other areas like public accommodations are not addressed in these changes.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri- who sponsored the bill that would have had the Council vote on expansion- believes the impact of the directive further bolsters his case for a more inclusive HRO.

“Why do you just add City employees and the vendors who do business or want to do business with the City and not include the whole City. We should not be the exception to the rule, the rule should be that there’s an HRO for everybody in Jacksonville,” he says.

He continues to meet with Councilmen and fine tune the expansion bill, including hearing concerns about the impact on small business and religious organizations.

Councilman Bill Gulliford- who sponsored the bill that would have had voters decide the issue- says those two areas continue to be his main concern.

“We are going to dictate and mandate conscience and action, and there’s where I run in to a real problem,” he says.

Gulliford says the Mayor’s directive doesn’t change his perspective on how the City should move forward. He says the directive allows businesses and citizens to continue to use their “conscience” and decide if they agree with the Mayor’s order.

“I can elect not to work for the City, just as I can elect not to do business with the City if I take exception to it,” he says.

He adds that many businesses have decided to add in more protections because of their “corporate conscience”, and not a City “mandate”.

Gulliford wouldn’t speculate on whether he would bring his bill back if and when Hazouri revives his, saying only that he’s open to whatever measure will be put forth as long as small business and religious organizations are protected.

Hazouri tells WOKV he’s planning to reintroduce some legislation regarding HRO expansion following the August primaries.

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