Marchers take part in the 2016 Charlotte Pride Parade. (Qcitymetro file photo)

Charlotte’s smallest employers — those with fewer than 15 people on their payrolls — would not be exempt from discrimination complaints under a new nondiscrimination ordinance (NDO) being hammered out by City Council.

At last night’s meeting, council members debated various aspects of the proposed NDO, which is being designed to extend protections to members of the LGBTQ community.

The proposed ordinance also would protect residents from discrimination based on other factors, such natural hair styles, especially styles associated with people of color.

“Racism, hatred, discrimination in all forms is not in the best interest of any civil society,” Malcolm Graham, who represents City Council District 2, said at the meeting. “I think this ordinance, narrowly tailored, demonstrates that here in Charlotte we want to put reasonable guidelines, reasonable parameters, that impact those type of situations.”

The ordinance would deal mainly with discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Why it matters: If the ordinance is adopted at next week’s council meeting, as expected, Charlotte would join a small list of progressive cities in North Carolina to approve NDO this year. Those cities include Durham, Asheville, Chapel Hill, Carboro, Apex and Hillsborough.

The ordinances began passing almost immediately after a state law expired on Dec. 31, 2020 that prohibited North Carolina municipalities from extending protections to LGBTQ and other groups. The law had been passed by the state’s Republicaj-controlled legislature after Charlotte passed a previous ordinance allowing residents to use public restrooms that coincide with their gender identity.

City Attorney Patrick Baker also noted at Monday’s meeting that the U.S. Supreme Court had, for the first time last year, ruled that federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex also must be interpreted to include discriminaiton based on sexual orientation and gender preference. 

Not everyone on the Charlotte council was happy with all aspects of the new proposed ordinance.

Ed Driggs, one of two Republicans on the 12-member council, pushed back against the idea of having Charlotte’s NDO apply to small employers. State and federal nondiscrimination laws, he noted, specifically omit employers with fewer than 15 hires.

Driggs said nondiscrimination laws can make workers who are members of a protected class “somewhat untouchable,” even when these workers are underperforming.

“You have to be prepared that any action you take against them, or any failure to promote them or anything else, is going to result in some sort of a protest, legal action or whatever,” he said. “This is particularly important for these smaller employers because they just don’t have the resources. They don’t have the time to show up at all these hearings, they don’t have the lawyers — they don’t have the ability to defend themselves against these actions…”

Charlotte has about 13,300 small businesses with under 15 employees, according to the city attorney.

“We have to be mindful when putting this unexpected burden on small employers,” Driggs said.

Tariq Bokhari, the council’s other Republican, lost a nonbinding straw vote to also add protections for residents based on their political affiliations.

In another straw vote, council members Graham, Larkin Egleston, Matt Newton, Renee Johnson, Julie Eiselt, Victoria Watlington and Tariq Bokhari said they favored applying the NDO to all employers within the city, regardless of size, even though large employers — those with 15 or more workers — are covered by state and federal laws that bar discrimination.

Baker, the city attorney, cautioned that extending the law to cover all employers could overburden city government with discrimination complaints. 

Among the issues yet undecided: what fine or penalties might be levied against violators, and whether the ordinance should explicitly exempt religious organizations and individuals who act under firmly-held religious beliefs.

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Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.

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