By Linda H. Evans,
Houston is the last major city without its own local anti-discrimination law. But that may soon change. Next week Mayor Anise Parker is going to place before the City Council a proposed ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, family status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, pregnancy, and genetic information, as federal laws already do. The proposal also would include coverage prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, areas not currently protected under Texas or federal law.
Supporters of the ordinance say it would expand the options of people whose only other choices now are to seek relief from the U.S. Department of Justice or file a costly lawsuit. Opponents of the ordinance are concerned it could force employers and possibly churches to violate their consciences.
If you do business in other Texas cities, you should be aware that Austin, Fort Worth, and Dallas already have laws that prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, while Houston and San Antonio have such prohibitions for city employees only. Approximately 88% of the Fortune 500 companies already have such policies in place, including nine of the top ten.
The new Houston ordinance, if approved, would apply to private businesses, housing, city employment, and city contracting. Violators would be fined up to $5,000. Exemptions would be carved out for religious institutions and businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Some private clubs and organizations would be exempt from the public accommodations requirements.
Watch this space for further developments on this ordinance. And if you have any questions about current discrimination laws, do not hesitate to give us a call.