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Charlotte City Council Discusses Proposed Expanded Nondiscrimination Ordinance

Charlotte City Council meets in strategy session.

Charlotte City Council members on Monday night held their first public discussion of a proposed expanded nondiscrimination ordinance.

The measure, a draft of which City Attorney Patrick Baker first emailed to members last week, would prohibit businesses from discriminating against any customer based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or family status. It would give legal protections in employment to the LGBTQ community, as well as workers based on their race, sex, national origin, religion, pregnancy, disability and other characteristics.

The U.S. Supreme Court gave protections last year to LGBTQ workers in its decision in Bostock vs. Clayton County. But Baker has said that ruling generally only applies to businesses with 15 or more employees.

The ordinance would also prohibit discrimination based on someone’s hairstyle--a move meant to help Black residents.

“We’ve got a bipartisan council here who is in agreement that this ordinance needs to be in place, that we need protections for people in our community,” said council member Larken Egleston, a Democrat. “I think that’s something that we should applaud because we’ve had a number of issues this year that have been divisive, that have split the council.”

Members decided via straw vote Monday night that the ordinance should apply to all employers, regardless of size. The measure previously would only have applied to businesses with fewer than 15 employees, since federal law prohibits discrimination by employers with 15 or more employees. But council member Tariq Bokhari, a Republican, argued that federal law does not include natural hair protections. Bokhari also proposed adding protection from discrimination based on political affiliation but that motion failed.

There are about 13,300 businesses in Charlotte with fewer than 15 employees, according to Baker.

The city attorney’s office is scheduled to send council members a revised draft of the ordinance on Thursday. Members are then expected to hear public comments and take an official vote on Aug. 9.

The ordinance was originally written with an effective date of Jan. 1, but Egleston asked Baker if the provisions unrelated to employment discrimination could possibly take effect sooner.

“Every day we wait, these protections are not in place,” Egleston said.

Baker responded that the employment portion would likely need "several months to get ramped up" but said he would research whether the city could split the ordinance's effective dates.

The new ordinance would not have any regulations allowing people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. Four years ago, the North Carolina General Assembly prohibited cities and towns from passing new rules about bathrooms when it repealed House Bill 2, which had become known nationwide as “the bathroom bill” and led to widespread controversy for the state.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.