• Dallas Ordinance Prohibits Sexual Orientation Discrimination
  • June 17, 2003 | Author: John L. Ross
  • Law Firm: Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons, L.L.P. - Dallas Office
  • Employers with facilities or employees in Dallas take heed. Declaring "[t]he denial or deprivation of . . . rights because of sexual orientation... detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Dallas," on May 3, 2002, the Dallas City Council amended the City Code to add new provisions prohibiting discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and housing on the basis of sexual orientation, and backed the law with criminal penalties.

    Scope of the Prohibitions

    "Sexual orientation" is defined as "an individual's real or perceived orientation as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, or an individual's real or perceived gender identity."

    City Contracts

    All construction contracts with the City of Dallas involving expenditure of more than $10,000 and all competitively bid contracts for goods and services of more than $50,000 now must contain an anti-discrimination clause which includes sexual orientation in addition to race, sex, age, color, religion and national origin.

    Additionally, all contractors to whom the provisions apply must include in any "help wanted" advertisements an equal opportunity statement that the employer does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The law does not, however, require contractors to provide benefits for "domestic partners" of an employee.

    Contractors who violate the equal employment opportunity provisions can have their contracts terminated or suspended and can be declared ineligible for further city contracts until the offending contractor come into compliance.

    Employment

    A new chapter to the City Code prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. The law applies to employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations which are subject to the federal and state employment discrimination statutes; that is, to employers with 15 or more employees. "Religious organizations" are exempt. Like federal and state discrimination statutes, in addition to employment discrimination the law also contains prohibitions against publishing an employment notice which indicates a preference or limitation based on sexual orientation. Employers are not, however, required to provide benefits for "domestic partners" of employees.

    Public Accommodations

    The law makes it unlawful for an owner, proprietor, or lessee of a place of public accommodation to discriminate against, or refuse service to, any person on the basis of sexual orientation. Social, fraternal, educational, civic, political organizations are exempt if profits from providing public accommodations are solely for the benefit of the organization. Private clubs are also exempt.

    Housing

    The law also declares unlawful discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the rental or sale of housing, in housing financing, or in brokerage services. The prohibition does not apply, however, to the sale or rental of a single-family home if the owner (1) does not own more than three single family dwellings (either inside or outside the city); (2) has lived in the home at some point during the preceding two years; and (3) does not use the services of a real estate broker or agent in connection with the sale or rental.

    Also excluded are rental properties with four or few units when the owner actually maintains and occupies part of the property as a residence. Nor does the law apply to rentals by a private organization only to its members when the dwelling is managed by the organization, not used for a commercial purpose, and is incidental to the organization's primary purpose. Finally, the law excludes rentals in which rooms are leased only to persons of the same sex and the dwelling contains common lavatory, kitchen or similar facilities for use by all persons occupying the dwelling.

    Retaliation

    The law also makes it unlawful to harass, threaten, harm, damage or otherwise penalize someone for engaging in activity protected under the law; that is, for filing a complaint, cooperating in an investigation, etc.

    Enforcement

    The ordinance specifically states it does not create a private right to sue over violations of the employment, public accommodations or housing provisions. Rather, the City Manager is to designate an "Administrator" to receive complaints, conduct investigations and attempt conciliation of claims. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the alleged violation. Following receipt of a complaint, the Administrator is to follow procedures similar to those of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Texas Commission on Human Rights, including notifying the employer, conducting an investigation, and seeking conciliation where appropriate. The Administrator may ask the city council to issue a subpoena for witnesses, production of documents, and access to facilities if the Administrator cannot obtain voluntary cooperation in the investigation.

    "Intentional" or "knowing" violations of the employment, public accommodation, and housing provisions constitute a criminal offense, punishable by a fine of between $200 and $500. If the Administrator concludes a violation has occurred and is unable to secure an acceptable conciliation of the dispute, the Administrator is required to refer the matter to the city attorney for prosecution in municipal court.

    The employment, public accommodation, and housing provisions of the ordinance took effect October 1, 2002.

    Dallas is Not Alone

    Other cities in Texas, including Austin, Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, Houston also have local anti-discrimination ordinances. The ordinances vary from city to city in their scope, applicability, enforcement mechanisms, and remedies, and a summary of each city ordinance will be featured in succeeding issues of the Newsletter.