Scottsdale appears poised to pursue creation of LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance

The rainbow flag is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride and LGBT social movements in use since the 1970s with colors representing sexuality, life, healing, sunlight, nature, art, harmony and spirit. (Photo courtesy of Ludovic Bertron at Flikr.com)

The rainbow flag is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride and LGBT social movements in use since the 1970s with colors representing sexuality, life, healing, sunlight, nature, art, harmony and spirit. (Photo courtesy of Ludovic Bertron at Flikr.com)

Scottsdale City Council is moving forward with creating a draft ordinance to be presented to the general public in an effort to create nondiscrimination laws protecting the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community while observing and protecting the civil rights of all residents.

The ordinance would make it illegal for Scottsdale business owners and managers to terminate employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identification.

The local governing board held an hours-long debate Tuesday, Nov. 17 on the merits of the creation of such a ordinance, who should the new rules affect and what could be the long-term impacts on small businesses if such workplace standards were adopted.

In 2014, the entire council signed a “UNITY Pledge.” But a work session discussion last March left some wondering why the city of Scottsdale would not join other Arizona municipalities — including Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff — and become the 226th American city to officially adopt an nondiscrimination ordinance to protect members of the LGBT community.

In June, the city of Scottsdale sent a letter to 88,000 utility customers encouraging residents and proprietors to sign the pledge and join the council in its support of LGBT rights. To date, 240 business and 540 residents in Scottsdale have signed the UNITY Pledge, according to city officials.

A member of city council says close to 50 hateful letters were sent back to the city following the UNITY Pledge effort, which, for some on the local governing body, reinforced the need for civil protections in Scottsdale.

Scottsdale municipal employees already enjoy LGBT workplace protections. In December 2007 the city adopted Ordinance No. 3765, which prohibits any city employee from discriminating against another employee based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Earlier this year the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that legalized same-sex marriages throughout the nation, but that ruling didn’t extend to the workplace.
Assistant City Manager Brent Stockwell says Scottsdale would join Mesa and Glendale in an effort to create new workplace protections for the LGBT community.

“If those three communities would pass (such an ordinance), that would take the percent of residents of Arizona and Maricopa County that are protected over 50 percent,” he told council at the Nov. 17 work session discussion. “Such an ordinance would expand on its (the city of Scottsdale) own anti-discrimination law that applies to its own employees.”

A delicate protection

Scottsdale City Attorney Bruce Washburn led the council discussion providing an overview of how the new rules would impact local businesses, residents and established religious organizations.

Mr. Washburn provided a recent ordinance adopted by the city of Sedona in northern Arizona as a potential starting point for Scottsdale to begin to devise its own workplace protections for members of the LGBT community while protecting the individual rights of all Scottsdale residents.

“Every one of my sentences starts with ‘if the city wants to,’” is how Mr. Washburn prefaced his comments to the local governing body. “There is no one model, standard ordinance — they are all over the place. We are not adopting an ordinance tonight.”

Mr. Washburn says he envisions a law that would only be enacted once complaints are rendered, then investigated and finally prosecuted by the city attorney’s office. Civil fines were discussed but no thresholds defined.

“Our actions are usually compliance driven. There is not something like a commission that decides if there was a violation,” Mr. Washburn explained. “We would use the existing court procedure. It is a civil enforcement provision rather than criminal, which is best suited for Scottsdale.”

Jim Lane

Jim Lane

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane says a city workforce protection law does not mean the city is trying to tell its citizens how to think.

“I know that there is a major sensitivity to acknowledging a philosophy or sense of history or any of those things they might still hold as their own belief,” he said of those who oppose the establishment of LGBT protections.

Mayor Lane says Scottsdale City Council is not looking to alter any established workplace protections or civil and human rights.

“You will always leave out somebody,” he said of the dangers of creating a new inclusive workplace protection.

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte contends ignorance is rampant when it comes to the creation of needed workplace protections for the LGBT community.

“When we look at data that over 70 percent of Arizonans believe the LGBT community is protected under the U.S. Constitution we know that is false,” she explained. “If communities adopt a nondiscrimination ordinance it is an issue of perception to be more inclusive then exclusive so the community believes it to be good for all. My preference is to be more inclusive than exclusive.”

Who is protecting who?

Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips says workplace protections for the LGBT community already exist in larger companies thus creating an undue burden on the small business owner.

Guy Phillips

Guy Phillips

“The city already has its nondiscrimination policy and most big companies have their own nondiscrimination policies, so basically if we write one up we are basically doing it for the small business community,” he said. “That would be putting a hardship on the mom-and-pop that is what we are really talking about here.”

Mr. Washburn agrees with Councilman Phillips that many large companies already have established LGBT workplace protections. A new city ordinance would only impact businesses with 15 or more employees.

“You have to have more than 15 employees,” Mr. Washburn said. “That would be my recommendations that it applies to businesses here in the city. There is no formula I can give you that says ‘this is the right way to do it.’”

It seems religious organizations, like churches and their subsequent commercial and private operations, would still be allowed to fire an employee for his or her sexual orientation or gender identification under the soon-to-be-unveiled ordinance language, city officials say.

“Do you want to have religious organizations be excluded no matter the operation? To me this is a very broad topic,” Mr. Washburn said. “The focus should be on compliance instead of trying to enforce something on someone.”

Councilman Phillips says forthcoming public outreach efforts will just be a “song and dance” as he claims a decision has already been made by the majority of Scottsdale City Council.

“We are just pretending to the public that we want to hear what they have to say, but the idea is we are going to draft an ordinance and four or five people are going to vote for it and now we have an ordinance,” he said. “If you really wanted to be open and honest about this, why don’t you put this in utility bills like we did with the Unity Pledge and see if people want it, or better yet, put it out to a vote?”

Scottsdale Vice Mayor David Smith says the idea at play is to protect people from discrimination.

“There is a point when this proverbial small business grows up and becomes a business entity. There is a point that a business becomes more than a person,” Mr. Smith said. “We are here to provide a plan of protection from discrimination.”

Vice Mayor Smith says the idea is to create a document to better understand how the general public thinks this issue should be addressed.

“All we are doing is trying to put together a document to send out to the public to get public reaction,” he said. “All we are trying to control is the act; we can’t control the words.”

No timeline was given for when draft ordinance language will be made available to the general public.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment