Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Metro Nashville Council looks at broader anti-discrimination bill

Earlier plan would protect gay Metro workers, applicants By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • September 14, 2009 As a measure to protect gay city employees and job applicants moves toward a final vote Tuesday, the Metro Council also is looking at a broader nondiscrimination bill. The first bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity as categories protected from employment discrimination, joining race, religion, age, disability and other long-protected characteristics. The newer bill, up for the second of three required votes this week, would make it illegal to discriminate in personnel matters based on "non-merit factors." Neither proposal would affect private-sector employers. Councilman Phil Claiborne, one of five co-sponsors of the second measure, said the first bill "addresses one group of people." All Metro workers and job applicants should be protected from personnel decisions that have nothing to do with ability or performance, Claiborne said. "If we're going to be in the position of setting new policy, it ought to be a policy that applies fairly and across the board," he said. The first bill was proposed by Councilwoman Megan Barry and co-sponsored by 12 other council members. Barry has said she has no plans to defer her bill, but she believes the two can coexist. Group pushes gender identity If the council approves an amendment to the bill that Claiborne is co-sponsoring, it will spell out sexual orientation as one of the protected "non-merit factors." But it won't specifically list gender identity. That's a problem, said Chris Sanders, chairman of the Tennessee Equality Project, who said he's unsure of the sponsors' motives. Sanders noted that "gender identity or expression" is listed in the Washington, D.C., personnel ordinance that Claiborne cites as a model. "There's a history of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," Sanders said, citing Tennessee hate-crime data. "That's why these categories are being added (in Barry's proposal). Sexual orientation and gender identity are qualities everyone has." Claiborne said his proposal would cover gender identity without explicitly mentioning it. "You could list infinite descriptors," he said. "The intent of this is to identify examples, and then use as a safety net the idea of 'other non-merit factors.' " Mike Safley, deputy director of the Metro Law Department, said in a statement to the council that Claiborne's bill, if amended, would offer the same protections as Barry's and provide "a broader statement of nondiscrimination." Sanders said both bills could become law without causing any problems. "They're not mutually exclusive," he said. The council meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Metro's historic courthouse

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