At last week's Boca Raton City Council meeting,City Attorney Diane Grub Frieser was directed to research updating the city's nondiscrimination policies to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and to report back to the council "in the very near future."
The action was taken following heartfelt comments made by Boca Raton native Tyler Morrison, a high school student at the Dreyfus School of the Arts.
"Currently in Boca Raton, LGBT employees have no legal recourse to protect themselves. LGBT employees are fair game for discriminatory acts," said Morrison. "It is simply unacceptable."
Boca Raton's longstanding animus against its gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming municipal employees came to light again two months ago when it was revealed that the city had quietly opted out of Palm Beach County's Equal Employment Ordinance in 2011.
The county ordinance provides legal recourse to individuals who may have been subjected to discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
"Since no federal or state law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, the Palm Beach County Equal Employment Ordinance provided the only legal recourse to gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming employees working for the City of Boca Raton," said Rand Hoch, president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. "Boca Raton's gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming employees were stripped of all of their civil rights in 2011."
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is a local non-profit organization which, since 1988, has been dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. It promotes equality, through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach.
"Since we had no idea just who it was in city hall that was responsible for taking away the all of the rights of the city's gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming employees, we filed a series of public records requests to find out," said Hoch.
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council also launched its "Boca Bigots Run City Hall" media campaign to prevent city officials from ignoring the issue.
When Boca Raton failed to timely provide the requested public records, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council hired attorney W. Trent Steele to file suit against the city for violations of the Florida Public Records Act. Shortly thereafter, the city began to produce some of the requested documents.
Palm Beach County Human Rights Council attorneys reviewed hundreds of pages of public records in an attempt to discover who was behind Boca Raton's discriminatory actions against the city's gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming employees.
That review led to the conclusion that the city attorney and City Manager Leif Ahnell had not provided complete and accurate information when the city council opted-out of the Palm Beach County Equal Employment Ordinance back in 2011.
"I do not believe that a majority of the members of the Boca Raton City Council have any problems protecting the rights of Boca Raton's gay, lesbian and gender-nonconforming employees," said Hoch. "Unfortunately, over the past few years, they made some very harmful decisions because city staff did not provide them accurate and complete information."
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council took steps to provide the city council members with the information that had been withheld by city administrators. That information, along with Morrison's eloquent public comments at last week's city council meeting, moved the council to take action.
Immediately after City Council Member Constance Scott initiated the discussion on updating the city's nondiscrimination policies, the city attorney took an offensive position, as she had done previously. However, it was obvious she had little support from the city council members.
In response to questioning by Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie, City Attorney Freiser was forced to admit that Boca Raton had not updated its list of protected classes in the Boca Raton Code of Ordinances since 1966.
"It is frightening that we have not looked at the policies since then," declared Haynie.
"Based on the comments made at the meeting, it appears that had the city council been presented with full and accurate information back in 2011, they would not have opted-out of the county's Equal Employment Ordinance," said Hoch.
"The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is particularly encouraged by the hands-on approach taken by Deputy Mayor Haynie and City Council Member Scott," said Hoch. "It is our hope that the City of Boca Raton will soon rescind the 2011 opt-out ordinance, adopt LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, and offer the full range of domestic partnership benefits to its lesbian and gay employees."
Send an e-mail message to the members of the Boca Raton City Council, thanking them for agreeing to update the city's nondiscrimination policies.
Step one: Cut and past these e-mail addresses onto your "To" Line.
Step two: When your e-mail pops up, type the following in the "Subject" line:
Step three: Compose a personal message to all five Council Members or cut and past the following message:
Thank you for directing staff to update the city's nondiscrimination policies to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression." Be sure to rescind Boca Raton Ordinance 5161 to provide your female and minority employees local recourse in the event they feel they have been discriminated against.
Also, please consider offering he full range of domestic partnership benefits to city employees.
Step four: Hit send.
Step five: Forward this to your supportive friends and family, so they may take action as well.
The Boca Raton City Council Members are:
Mayor Susan Whelchel
Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie
Council Member Anthony Majhess
Council Member Constance J. Scott
Council Member Michael Mullaugh
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Saturday, November 3, 2012
November 2, 2012
(Boca Raton, Florida) In response to the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council's ongoing "Boca Bigots Run City Hall" media campaign, Boca Raton Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie took time out at last week's City Council meeting to address "a lot of e-mail accusing us of discriminatory action and bigotry."
"We are not discriminatory. We are not bigoted here in our community," Haynie insisted before asking City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser to explain that the charges "are certainly unfounded."
"The City has had its own 'equal employment, equal opportunity ordinance' in effect for many years and we have always followed that ordinance," Frieser told the City Council. "It is fully compliant with state and federal law and has always been an appropriate ordinance."
In her remarks, Frieser made no less than ten references to the city's "equal employment, equal opportunity ordinance".
The problem is, no such ordinance appears to exist.
"That is just another lie from the bigots who run Boca Raton city hall," said Palm Beach County Human Rights Council President Rand Hoch. "Contrary to the repeated assertions of Boca Raton's City Attorney, no equal employment or equal opportunity ordinance appears in the Code of Ordinances of the City of Boca Raton."
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is a local nonprofit organization, founded in 1988, which is dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
In an attempt to determine whether Boca Raton ever enacted an ordinance, but somehow did not include it in the Code of Ordinances, the Human Rights Council filed a public records request to obtain a copy of the alleged ordinance.
"If Boca Raton has an equal employment opportunity ordinance in effect, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council wants to review it and learn how it came into existence," said Hoch.
However, Hoch is not optimistic that the City will respond.
"We have repeatedly written to the members of the Boca Raton City Council and we have filed five different public records requests with the city so far this year," said Hoch. "To date, we have not heard from the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor or any of the City Council Members. Nor has a single document been produced in response to any of our public records requests."
The Human Rights Council retained attorney W. Trent Steele to to file suit against Boca Raton for its failure to comply with Florida's Public Records Act.
"If Boca produces an 'equal employment, equal opportunity ordinance', I will personally apologize to Ms. Frieser for calling her a liar," said Hoch. "However, I will not apologize to any of the Boca officials for calling them bigots - because I believe that is what they are."
The city's issues with discrimination came to light again last month when Boca Raton officials informed Palm Beach County Commissioners that the city would not sign an interlocal agreement with the county as long as it required Boca Raton to state that the city does not discriminate against its employees on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Palm Beach County's Nondiscrimination in Contracting Policy prohibits the county from funding any entity that practices discrimination which the County has determined to be unlawful. The policy also requires a specific nondiscrimination provision to be included in all county contracts.
The County's Equal Employment Ordinance protects employees from discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Although County Commissioner Steven Abrams, a former mayor of Boca Raton, attempted to persuade his colleagues to remove "gender identity or expression" from the interlocal agreement, the Commissioners voted unanimously to include all of the protected classes in the agreement.
The Commissioners gave Boca Raton 60 days to either execute the agreement including the County's nondiscrimination language or to forfeit the $1.2 million in County funding to be used for cleaning up hazardous materials in Boca Raton.
At last week's City Council meeting, Boca Raton acquiesced to the County's terms in order to secure the County's money.
The dispute between Boca Raton and Palm Beach County on discrimination issues has been brewing for several years.
Under Palm Beach County's Equal Employment Ordinance, the County's Office of Equal Opportunity is charged with investigating and resolving charges of discrimination.
"Since the federal government and the State of Florida have refused to enact laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, Palm Beach County's Equal Employment Ordinance provides the only legal recourse to gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming employees working in Palm Beach County," said Hoch.
Last month, both the Human Rights Council and the County Attorney learned that in 2011, Boca Raton Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie asked the Boca Raton City Council to pass an ordinance allowing Boca Raton to opt out of the County's Equal Employment Ordinance.
After Haynie's motion was seconded by Mayor Susan Whelchel, Boca Raton Ordinance No. 5161 was unanimously enacted by the City Council.
"It took less than two minutes for the bigots who run Boca Raton City Hall to strip away all of the civil rights previously held by the City's gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming municipal employees, " said Hoch. "That one vote by the bigots who run Boca Raton left their gay, lesbian and gender non-conforming municipal employees without any legal recourse to challenge employment discrimination."
Within days of learning that Boca Raton had opted out of the County's Equal Employment ordinance, the Human Rights Council sent letters to Mayor Whelchel, Deputy Mayor Haynie and Boca Raton City Council Members Anthony Majhess, Constance Scott and Michael Mullaugh urging them "take prompt action to rescind City of Boca Raton Ordinance No. 5161."
Although no one from the City Council -- or anyone employed by the City of Boca Raton -- ever responded to the letters from the Human Rights Council, that has not deterred the civil rights organization..
The Human Rights Council sent a follow-up letter to Deputy Mayor Haynie asking her "to take an objective look" at what Boca Raton has actually done concerning discrimination.
"Perhaps you would see that the City of Boca Raton is, in fact, discriminating," Hoch wrote. "And this is not just against the City's lesbian, gay and gender nonconforming employees, but also against women and other minorities working for the City."
Hoch also informed Haynie that, from his review of the City's Code of Ordinance, it appeared that Boca Raton had not updated the classes of people protected from discrimination since 1966.
"In the 46 years which have passed since the City of Boca Raton addressed discrimination ..., the federal government has prohibited discrimination based on disability, pregnancy and genetic information. Additionally, the State of Florida has prohibited discrimination based on marital status," wrote Hoch. "The time has come for the City of Boca Raton to actually enact the type of equal employment/equal opportunity ordinance that you were told already was in existence."
While Boca Raton does not appear to have an ordinance addressing equal opportunity in municipal employment, the City's Job Application Process web page includes a statement which reads: The City of Boca Raton does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, marital status, disability or veteran status.
A slightly different statement, which appears on the the City's Human Resources main web page, includes "genetic information" along with the aforementioned protected classes.
The Human Rights Council has asked Haynie to have Boca Raton update all of the city's nondiscrimination policies to "include race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment), national origin, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information or gender identity or expression."
"Boca Raton currently includes 'veteran status' in its nondiscrimination statements, even though that is not required by federal or state law," said Hoch. "Therefore, there is precedent for Boca to include both 'sexual orientation', and "gender identity or expression", neither of which are required to be included by federal or state law."
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council also asked Haynie to have Boca Raton restore the civil rights taken away by the enactment of Boca Raton Ordinance No. 5161 and advised the Deputy Mayor that "as long as Ordinance No. 5161 remains in effect, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council will continue to expand our 'Boca Bigots Run City Hall' campaign."