What Charlotte's Proposed Nondiscrimination Ordinance Means For Small Businesses
Charlotte City Council next month is scheduled to vote on a new nondiscrimination ordinance that would provide legal protections for the LGBTQ community. Under the proposal, businesses would face new restrictions, including prohibiting them from denying service to anyone based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It would also ban businesses with fewer than 15 people from discriminating against any employee or prospective hire based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
For more, Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter joins WFAE "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry for our segment BizWorthy.
Marshall Terry: Tony, you reached out to several local employment attorneys about the language in this proposed ordinance. What did they say?
Tony Mecia: Marshall, I just wanted to look a little bit deeper at how this ordinance actually would work in practice. You know, Charlotte's wanted to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance in public accommodations for a while. But this is a little bit of a new wrinkle in the sense that the ordinance is getting into the issue of employment discrimination.
So I talked to some employment attorneys and they were just breaking down how it would work and said that basically it's going to be a little bit of a different process than the traditional "file a lawsuit if you've been discriminated against." You have to work through a process, file a complaint with the city. And really the most of the burden of this ordinance is going to fall on smaller businesses.
Terry: Right. The proposal bans businesses with fewer than 15 employees from discriminating against workers based on things like sexual orientation. So why does the proposal focus on small businesses like that? And what about businesses that have more than 15 employees?
Mecia: That's a good question. Federal law already protects individuals who say they've been discriminated against by employers that have 15 employees or more. That's already covered under federal law — protections against racial discrimination and discrimination based on sex, on age. And then last year, you had a Supreme Court decision that extended that to gay, lesbian and transgender individuals as well.
So those protections are already there for big companies. What this would do, what this Charlotte ordinance would do, would be to apply some of those protections against companies with fewer than 15 employees, although it would be a slightly different process.
I talked to some plaintiffs attorneys that said, well, the fact you have to file through the city and have a panel and go to arbitration, that really sort of discourages, maybe, some discrimination claims that otherwise might be made. And they said, you know, compared to other cities where you have a cause of action, where you can just sue and go into court, that this is a little bit more of a convoluted process and might not fully help people who say they've been victims of discrimination.
Terry: Oh, so is there a feeling that maybe this ordinance wouldn't be all that effective?
Mecia: I think it's not as robust maybe as you see in other parts of the country. But the city says that it's constrained by North Carolina law. The city attorney, Patrick Baker, wrote in a memo to council members that he has some questions about whether cities actually have the authority to do this at all, but said if you want to try it, we can test it out and see. So it's less robust than other places, but it is sort of, I think, seen as a step in that direction.
Terry: Tony, we've talked before about a liquor shortage that's happening in the Charlotte area. And the Ledger this week reported there's an upside to that for South Carolina liquor stores. How so?
Mecia: Marshall, we dispatched a reporter down to South Carolina liquor stores, it was a very tough assignment. But she reported that North Carolina is saying that there are these shortages of liquor, which are evident if you go into an ABC store. But in South Carolina, it's a completely different story. In South Carolina, the state does not control liquor stores with as much control as they do in North Carolina. They're independently owned, the retailers in South Carolina say that makes them more nimble, more able to order things quicker when they are out of a particular bottle of vodka or tequila or what have you.
So they're actually pretty well-stocked and they say they've been getting business from North Carolina — people going across the border to buy liquor there because it's more available and typically it's a little bit less expensive.
Terry: Let's move on to some development news now. You report there's been a big land purchase in NoDa. Where exactly and what's going on with it?
Mecia: This is a little bit north of NoDa, it's near the Sugar Creek light rail station area that's seen a lot of development interest, new apartments, money being raised for an art house theater up there. A lot of development right by a light rail stop. In this case, there's a company called Third & Urban out of Atlanta that bought 12 acres for about $24 million, some older industrial buildings. It's not clear, exactly, what they're going to do with that land, but certainly it's an area of high interest to developers.
Terry: Finally, it seems like we've been ending this segment lately with an update on the ongoing saga at Myers Park Country Club, which is being sued by one of its members. So what's the latest this week?
Mecia: Yeah, Marshall. So this week, a judge ordered Myers Park Country Club to hand over some financial documents to one of its members that had been suing it, former U.S. Ambassador named Mark Erwin. He had sued the club in March saying that he wanted financial records related to the club's decision to pursue a $27 million renovation plan that has been the source of some controversy at the club because it dislocates a coed dining room and replaces it with a men's-only area.
And so the judge ruled this week that Erwin is entitled to more of the documents that he's seeking -- consultants' reports, financial projections, meeting minutes, those sorts of things. And so the club is going to be required to hand those over. And Erwin told the Ledger this week that he hopes that the club will slow down and put a halt to this renovation, although construction has already started.
Terry: All right, Tony, thank you.
Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.