Dunwoody could become the latest metro Atlanta city to ban local businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ people, with a proposed system that includes city-appointed mediators or lawyers where violators could be fined up to $1,000.
The ordinance, which is scheduled for a City Council vote May 20, also would put in writing an existing informal practice the city’s police department receiving training on hate crimes and reporting such crimes to federal authorities.
The ordinance was proposed by Councilmembers Pam Tallmadge and John Heneghan after they said a gay resident asked them to do so to protect his family after reading about neighboring cities passing such ordinances.
“When a member of our community comes to me and asks … why haven’t you done this to protect me and my family, it needed to be thoroughly looked at,” Heneghan said. “As a council member, I’m there to make sure there is protection for everybody. It’s the right thing to do.”
Tallmadge said it would be best if the state would pass a statewide nondiscrimination law, but until then cities are taking up the slack.
“It is sad that we are in a world where we have to write these things down,” Tallmadge said, “and that cities are put in the position to have these ordinances. If the state would pass such a law, all cities would have this already.”
The city’s ordinance would ban local, privately-owned businesses from discriminating against people based on their actual perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The ordinance also prohibits discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, marital status, familial status, or veteran/military status.
Heneghan said most of the protected classes included in the ordinance are protected by state and federal law. But, he said, the ordinance is necessary because there is currently no state law prohibiting discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“This is a good opportunity to protect those who have no protections,” he said.
Dunwoody’s ordinance is derived heavily from a recent one passed by the city of Doraville. And, like a city of Chamblee’s ordinance, Dunwoody’s includes a hate crimes provision. Tallmadge said the Dunwoody Police Department already receives training on hate crimes and has been reporting hate crimes to the FBI, the agency that tracks such crimes, but the ordinance makes it official policy.
Tallmadge said after hearing from the local resident about the ordinance, she and Heneghan thought the idea was worth exploring. The two recently sat down with department heads to go over the idea to weigh the pros and cons.
“And there were no cons,” she said of the approximate 45-minute meeting.
There was not an issue or an incident that triggered the ordinance, she said, just a request from the resident.
“We’re not doing this just because everyone else is doing it, but because Dunwoody is accepting of all, no matter what,” Tallmadge said.
She said it was brought up that passing a non-binding resolution rather than a legally enforceable ordinance might be the better path to take. “A resolution is a weaker way of saying something. Ordinances have consequences,” she said.
The ordinance would exempt religious corporations or associations and nonprofit private clubs that are not open to the public.
In the Dunwoody ordinance, a person alleging discrimination would have to file a complaint within 90 days of the incident to the city clerk and pay a $50 fee. The fee would be refunded if the complaint is ruled valid. The alleged violator would receive notice within seven days after the complaint is filed.
The city manager would then refer the complaint to a mediator. If mediation did not work, the city manager would appoint a hearing officer to hear and review the case. The hearing officer could either dismiss or investigate the complaint. If the hearing officer determines a violation has occurred, a $500 fine would be assessed on the first violation and $1,000 fine for subsequent violations.
Heneghan said the city would only investigate plausible complaints where there are no legal remedies offered by federal or state authorities.
The fees for the mediator or hearing officer would be paid by the losing party, Heneghan said, so there would be no cost to the city. If a party is unhappy with the final decision, the case could be appealed to DeKalb County Superior Court, according to Heneghan.
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.