Novi City Council approves LGBTQ-based protections, updates anti-discrimination and harassment policy

By Mark Cavitt, mcavitt@digitalfirstmedia.com,, @MarkCavitt on Twitter / The Oakland Press

The Novi City Council voted 4-3 on Monday night in favor of updating its anti-discrimination and harassment policy for the first time in 19 years.

The changes made provide protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

According to The Human Rights Campaign, 18 Michigan cities have adopted policies that prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity in ordinances that govern all public and private employers. This list includes Ferndale, Huntington Woods and Pleasant Ridge.

Councilwoman Kelly Breen brought forth the idea to the city’s attorneys, who noted that the city charter does not say anything about prohibiting council from taking action on that measure.

Breen said after reviewing one of the city’s service provider contracts, she noticed it contained language that provided for similar protections. This prompted her to look over the city’s anti-discrimination policy.

“I was looking over some internal city documents and wondered why we didn’t offer similar protections, said Breen. “We say that we’re an all-inclusive community that embraces everyone. If we’re going to walk the walk, then we need to talk the talk. This was an important measure to take.”

Mayor Pro-Tem David Staudt said there should be zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment for anyone, but believes the process in which this change was made violated the “letter and spirit” of the city charter all for the sake of partisan politics.

“I am not at all opposed to the updates to the policy or including the new protected classes,” said Staudt. “This was an intrusion by council into the responsibilities of our city manager for political purposes. This is unprecedented interference with the role of our city manager.”

Councilwoman Gwen Markham, who voted in favor, disagrees with Staudt in saying it was the responsibility of council to make this decision because as elected leaders, “we set the tone and the foundation by which the city conducts business.”

“We have seen over the last few years in our society that harassment can take many forms,” said Markham. “Our current policy was enacted 19 years ago. Since then most large organizations and many other communities have adopted language within their policies to ensure fair treatment and recourse for more specific groups who had been left out in the past."

The city’s policy, as amended, now reads in part:

“It is a violation of the City of Novi’s policy to discriminate in the areas of employment opportunities, promotion opportunities, disciplinary decisions, benefits or other employment decisions; to create discriminatory work conditions; or to use discriminatory evaluative standards in employment if the basis of that discriminatory treatment is, in whole or in part, related to the person’s sex, race, color, national origin, age, religion, disability status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, weight, height, or membership in any other protected category.

Councilman Andrew Mutch said the policy change is a common-sense step to ensure that it “reflects and protects the diverse community where we live and the people who work for and do business with the city.”

NOISE AT STATE LEVEL

On May 21, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission voted in favor, 5-0-1, to begin accepting complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expand its interpretation of the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

At the May 17 commission meeting, Agustin Arbulu, Michigan Department of Civil Rights executive director, cited the recent U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit Court case of EEOC v. Harris Funeral Homes, which ruled that sex stereotyping based on a person’s gender non-conforming behavior is impermissible discrimination.

Based on an internal review of that case, it was concluded the commission should “immediately start accepting and investigating claims from persons alleging discrimination because of sex, which includes gender non-conforming behavior.”

Vicki Levengood, department communications director, said she can’t speculate on whether the commission’s decision prompted Novi, or other municipalities, to change their own policies.

“In 2015, the commission developed a template that can be used by local governments that want to extend protections to LGBTQ residents,” said Levengood.

According to The Detroit Free Press, Ron Robinson, an assistant in the Attorney General’s Office, told the commission in September that it didn’t have the authority to re-interpret the civil rights act and said that’s up to the state legislature.

Andrea Bitely, director of communications for Attorney General Bill Schuette, told The Oakland Press on Thursday that some members of the state legislature have requested an opinion from Schuette’s office.

“We are currently reviewing that request,” said Bitely.

READ NOVI’S UPDATED POLICY: http://cityofnovi.org/Agendas-Minutes/City-Council/2018/180604/1-RevisionstoAnti-DiscriminationandAnti-Harassment.aspx

MICHIGAN CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION DECISION: https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&q=https://www.michigan.gov/mdcr/0,4613,7-138-4952_4995-350620--,00.html&source=gmail&ust=1528476092847000&usg=AFQjCNFTtIUbgk1OqMSTjhPLvKOzqVjkmg

CITIES WITH SIMILAR PROTECTIONS: https://www.hrc.org/resources/cities-and-counties-with-non-discrimination-ordinances-that-include-gender