Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan recently signed into law Ordinance Number 82-2017 (“Ordinance”) expanding equal employment opportunity protections for employees working within the City. Most notably, the Ordinance extends protections against discrimination based upon an applicant’s or employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation. While the expanded protections are nothing new for public contractors already subject to the City’s non-discrimination laws, it is a significant change for employers operating within the City of Akron who previously did not have to account for such protections.
The Ordinance, which is effective immediately, serves two main purposes. First, it amends the City of Akron’s Code of Ordinances to prohibit employers located within the City, as well as businesses that take contracts from the City but may be located elsewhere, from discriminating against employees and applicants in certain protected classes. Second, it establishes the Akron Civil Rights Commission.
The Ordinance now makes it unlawful for public contractors and subcontractors under contract with the City of Akron, as well as employers operating in the City of Akron, who employ four or more individuals, to discriminate against an employee because of that employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation. The Ordinance also includes protections from discrimination because of an employee’s age, sex, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, military status, disability or marital status, though these protections were already outlined in Ohio and federal laws. Additionally, the Ordinance makes it unlawful for employers to coerce, threaten, retaliate against or interfere with an employee in the exercise of his/her rights under the Ordinance.
The Ordinance also creates the Akron Civil Rights Commission (“Commission”). The Commission is tasked with the job of enforcing the non-discrimination Ordinance by investigating and hearing complaints of discrimination. The Commission will be composed of a diverse set of five to seven Akron residents, reflective of the classes of individuals protected by the Ordinance, who will be appointed by the Mayor. The Commissioners will work in conjunction with the City of Akron Law Department. If the Commission finds that an employer engaged in discriminatory practices in violation of the Ordinance, the applicant or employee bringing the complaint will be entitled to various remedies such as reinstatement, back pay, and damages resulting from humiliation/embarrassment. The Commission can also require an employer to post a notice and pay civil penalties not exceeding $1,000 per violation.
The Ordinance does not limit an employee’s right to pursue claims of discrimination with state or federal agencies, such as the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (“OCRC”) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). It is not yet known whether the Commission will enter into work-sharing arrangements with the OCRC and/or the EEOC. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether employers will be required to defend the same claim in in multiple forums.
Employers who are subject to the Ordinance should review their current policies to determine whether they prohibit discrimination and harassment of applicants and employees based upon sexual orientation and gender identity and, if not, revise their policies accordingly to include these protections. Additionally, employers should take steps to communicate these newly protected classifications to their supervisors and managers to ensure compliance with the Ordinance.