New civil rights ordinance headed to Fayetteville City Council

A crowd began forming inside City Hall at around 3 p.m. Aug. 19, 2014 for a 5:30 p.m. City Council meeting which included the final reading of a contentious civil rights ordinance.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Fayetteville aldermen will consider a new civil rights ordinance later this month.

The proposal, sponsored by Alderwoman Adella Gray and Alderman Matthew Petty, was placed on the agenda for the next regular City Council meeting on June 16.

The new law would prohibit business owners and landlords from unjustly firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also provide protections for use of public accommodations, such as restrooms.

If passed, the ordinance would not go into effect unless voters approve the measure in a special election to be held Sept. 8.

» Download the full ordinance packet

Source: City of Fayetteville

Churches, religious schools and daycare facilities, and religious organizations of any kind would be exempt from the new law.

Unlike the previous civil rights ordinance that was approved by aldermen and then later repealed, the city attorney would not serve as the administrator of complaints. Instead, a Civil Rights Commission would be formed to review and decide complaints of alleged discrimination.

The commission would consist of seven members: two representatives of the business community; two owners or managers of rental property; one representative with experience in human resources or employment law; and two citizens at large, at least one of whom identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Anyone asserting a claim of discrimination would be required to present their claim in writing to the city attorney, who would inform the Civil Rights Commission that a complaint had been received.

Informal and confidential mediation would be attempted by the city before any other enforcement measures could begin. If mediation fails, the commission would schedule a hearing to review the complaint and receive evidence. If the commission determines that discrimination had occurred, the violator would be fined up to $100 for the first offense. Subsequent violations would carry the city’s general penalty which calls for fines of up to $500. A violation would not be considered a misdemeanor or felony.

In a memo to aldermen, City Attorney Kit Williams attached a 10-page analysis by Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter on why he believes Little Rock’s recently passed civil rights ordinance is legal despite a new state law designed to keep cities and counties from adopting ordinances that offer protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act, which was passed earlier this year in response to Fayetteville’s original civil rights ordinance, specifically prohibits municipalities from making laws that create new protected classes.

Carpenter’s analysis concluded that because state law already prohibits “bullying” someone because of their “sexual preference,” that particular protected class already exists.

Williams said he hasn’t yet drafted his own legal analysis, but said Carpenter’s arguments would also apply to the proposed new law in Fayetteville. He said while there are differences between Little Rock’s ordinance and the new law proposed in Fayetteville, he would be prepared to defend the city if the new law is challenged.

“You should know that Little Rock’s ordinance was very limited in its scope and only covered its own employees and contractors seeking to do business with the city,” wrote Williams. “The one now proposed by Aldermen Gray and Petty would cover most employees, tenants, and business customers in Fayetteville as did the initial non-discrimination ordinance. Therefore, I believe it is likely that once the Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act goes into legal effect in July, an opponent will sue Fayetteville if you have passed the Gray / Petty ordinance.”

Alderwoman Adella Gray is scheduled to host a news conference to announce the ordinance at 11 a.m. Friday, June 5 on the steps of the Fayetteville Town Center.