Council passes amended sex discrimination ordinance after hearty debate

December 01, 2009

After two weeks of delays, Akron City Council Monday night made official a city policy which prohibits discrimination against city employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but with two exceptions.

Council in an 11-2 vote passed the ordinance amended from its original language as it was presented Nov. 16 to include exemptions for religious organizations who might enter into contracts with the city, and for groups who may contract to provide services to children.

In the final version of the ordinance, the words ‘gender identity’ will not apply to contractors providing services to minors. The words ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ also are excluded from language in the code which applies to contracts with religious organizations.

The vote came down after hearty and sometimes emotional debate among members of Council on the matter. At-Large Councilman John Conti called for the amended language excluding religious organizations and contractors providing services to children, which Council approved in a 10-3 vote.

Ward 10 Councilwoman Kelli Crawford, Ward 6 Councilwoman Terry Albanese and Ward 8 Councilman Raymond W. Cox III all voted against the exemptions, and pointed out that it only makes sense that city policy should prohibit discrimination solely based on an employee’s or job applicant’s sexual orientation.

“The notion itself is simple,” Cox said. “Without protection there will be people who, because of who they are, will be discriminated against. What is the basis for saying on paper you are qualified, but when we see you, we really don’t want you here?”

Cox, Crawford and Albanese eventually voted for the final ordinance, but Ward 1 Councilman James P. Hurley III and Ward 9 Councilman Mike Freeman still held out on supporting the ordinance, even as amended.

Freeman initially called for time on the ordinance last week out of concerns for faith-based groups doing business with the city, and for the possible legal implications the ordinance could have for the city.

 “We have not had one lawsuit against the city of Akron because of this issue, yet we have this legislation before us saying ‘let’s create a protected class based on sexuality,’” Freeman said. “If I were a lawyer, I’d be on my knees praying this thing passes because of the lawsuits that could follow.”

The city had no prior policy in place for protecting employees against sexual orientation discrimination. The ordinance passed Monday night adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the equal employment opportunity clause of the city code which currently bans discrimination against employees based on race, religion, color, sex or national origin – but with the exemptions for religious organizations and contractors providing services for children.

Council President Marco Sommerville (W-3), who co-sponsored the original legislation with Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, praised Council for giving thoughtful consideration to the vote and for engaging in healthy debate.

 “A lot of Council members have been really honest here,” Sommerville said. “I want Council to know I appreciate the honesty and discussion we’ve had.”

Council voted to offer the ordinance as a whole.