Dunwoody is expected this month to become the latest city in metro Atlanta to approve an ordinance that bans privately owned businesses from discriminating against minority groups including LGBTQ people.
The ordinance also puts in place a process for people to report alleged discrimination to the city with city-appointed mediators and hearing officers investigating such claims. Additionally, the ordinance formalizes that the police department will receive training on hate crimes and report hate crimes to the FBI.
A second and final reading of the nondiscrimination ordinance was assigned to be on the consent agenda for the June 10 City Council meeting. Consent agenda items are traditionally approved unanimously and with no discussion. The first read of the ordinance was held May 20 with no discussion.
Mayor Denis Shortal said he supported the ordinance, but didn’t feel it was necessary. He agreed to put it on the agenda because a majority of the council supported it.
“First of all, I think we already treat everybody equally here in the city,” he said in an interview. “I’ve never had any cases [of discrimination] come up to me by people, and I talk to a lot of people.
“Some people felt we needed to do this. … If it makes other people feel more comfortable, that’s fine by me,” he added. “If this gives some people reassurance, if that’s what folks need, that’s fine by me.”
The city’s ordinance would ban local, privately owned businesses from discriminating against people based on their actual or 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.
The ordinance exempts religious corporations or associations and nonprofit private clubs that are not open to the public.
Councilmembers John Heneghan and Pam Tallmadge proposed the ordinance. They both said a gay resident asked them to do so after reading about a similar ordinance being considered in Brookhaven.
“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.”
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.
With Dunwoody’s expected approval of the ordinance, the city joins a growing rank of metro Atlanta cities putting such laws in their books that include protections for LGBTQ people.
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.
Tallmadge said it would be best if the state would pass a proposed statewide nondiscrimination law that includes LGBTQ protections, 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,” she 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.”
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 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. Brookhaven City Councilmember Linley Jones said she has asked the city attorney to review if the such an ordinance would be appropriate for Brookhaven after a gay resident asked the council to do so.
“I am thrilled our city is taking the initiative to protect all our residents from discrimination,” Councilmember Lynn Deutsch said. “I think it reflects the community we aspire to be and makes sure are that community.”
With Perimeter Center in Dunwoody and its importance as a major economic engine in the Southeast, Deutsch said LGBTQ protections ensure corporations and businesses know how Dunwoody stands on this issue.
“We are showing current and future businesses what kind of community we are,” she said.
Councilmember Terry Nall said Dunwoody has always been a community of diversity and tolerance. He said the state’s “religious freedom” bills are not part of his consideration to support the ordinance. He noted the city’s human resources policy prohibits discrimination against all people. In 2016, the city added sexual orientation and gender identity to the HR policy.
“We have a long history of diversity,” Nall said.
No discussion of the ordinance on first read and putting the ordinance on the consent agenda for the second read reflects that the City Council fully supports the ordinance, said Councilmember Tom Lambert.
“I think it is positive there was no discussion … because it means we all recognize the importance of this, and that this is a show of support,” Lambert added. “We are unified in support of it.”
Councilmember Jim Riticher did not return a call seeking comment.
How the ordinance works
City Attorney Bill Riley explained to the council at the May 20 meeting the nondiscrimination ordinance includes having city-appointed mediators and hearing officers 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. 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.
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, according to the ordinance.
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.
Nall praised including the reporting of hate crimes and hate crimes training for the police department in the ordinance. He also said how to enforce the ordinance was discussed by council members before it was publicly presented.
“We raised the enforcement issues when deciding if this should be a resolution or ordinance,” he said. “We needed a mechanism in place … and I am comfortable with what the city attorney came up with.”
Tallmadge said approving an ordinance makes the city’s message clear. “A resolution is a weaker way of saying something. Ordinances have consequences,” she said.
Hate crimes reporting
The Dunwoody Police Department approved a policy on how to investigate and report hate crimes that went into effect Jan. 1. The city’s nondiscrimination ordinance formalizes that process to also include hate crimes training for officers.
The policy states hate crimes are those crimes committed against a person or group of people based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability or sexual orientation.
Georgia is one of five states in the U.S. without a hate crimes law. Chief Billy Grogan has actively worked for passage of a state hate crime law as a member of the Georgia Association of Police Chiefs, according to police spokesperson Sgt. Robert Parsons.
Grogan is also a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Human and Civil Rights Committee. In 2017, he was appointed to the Enhancing Response to Hate Crime Advisory Committee of the IACP and the Lawyers Committee.
Last year, Grogan participated in a law enforcement roundtable discussion hosted by the U.S. Department of Justice on “Improving the Reporting and Identification of Hate Crimes,” Parsons said.
“Our hate crimes policy was proactively put into place in an effort to not only increase awareness of hate crimes and bias incidents, but to also ensure we do everything in our power to fully investigate any reports of hate crimes or bias incidents,” Parsons said in a written statement.
The policy also states hate crimes are to be reported monthly to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
No hate crimes have been reported so far this year, Parsons said. There was an investigation into a neighbor dispute in which one person yelled a derogatory term about the other person’s nationality, but no crime occurred, he said.
The city’s nondiscrimination ordinance requires officers undergo training on local, state and federal laws on hate crimes. Because there is no state hate crime law, no specific training on hate crimes is currently available, Parsons explained.
Training on investigating assaults or damage to property is ongoing, but there are no laws in place to address the motivations for the crime currently at the state level, he said.
Parsons said he has attended trainings put on by the Atlanta Police Department’s LGBT liaison unit on hate crimes and there are discussions to bring Atlanta’s training, and other training programs, to the department to increase awareness of hate crimes.