Saturday, November 3, 2012

Boca Bigots Update: Boca Raton City Attorney Lied To City Council About Nondiscrimination Ordinance

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."

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