Thursday, October 15, 2015

West Palm Beach To Expand Equal Opportunity Law

Florida Agenda
October 14, 2015

WEST PALM BEACH–At Tuesday evening’s meeting of the West Palm Beach City Commissioners, they voted unanimously to expand the civil rights of minorities and women by amending the definition of “public accommodations” to include retail stores, schools, day care and senior centers, medical offices, funeral homes, bakeries, laundromats and virtually all other places of business within city limits. The County Commission unanimously adopted the same definition last month.

Both actions were taken at the request of  the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), the County’s most prolific civil rights organization. Over the past twenty-five years, PBCHRC has succeeded in having local public officials enact more than 95 antidiscrimination laws and policies.

“When the local civil rights ordinances were (originally) enacted decades ago, elected officials focused only on those places where discrimination was most blatant – hotels, restaurants, bars and movie theaters,” said Rand Hoch, PBCHRC’s President and Founder.  “Unfortunately, discrimination is more widespread. Initially, our goal was to address consumer racism,” said Hoch, a retired judge.

The experience of people of color being refused service or given poor service  – known as “shopping while Black”  – is not uncommon.  Black customers are also frequently followed by store clerks, wrongly detained, steered away from certain products, and asked for additional forms of identification regarding credit applications.

“Allowing businesses to choose their clients based on prejudice deprives Americans of the freedom to walk into businesses that appear to be open to the general public and be treated equally,” said West Palm Beach City Commission President Sylvia Moffett. “If you hang out a shingle and get a license to do business, you should be required to provide the same service to all consumers.”

Lesbian and gay couples are also targets of public accommodation discrimination.

Since same-sex marriage has become legal, a handful of companies in the wedding industry in Colorado, Indiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have refused to provide services to gay and lesbian couples.

“Across America, gay and lesbian couples planning their weddings are now being refused service solely because of their sexual orientation,” said Hoch. “Under our new local ordinances, if a baker refuses to provide a cake for a gay couple’s wedding, he may be required to defend his discriminatory practices in court.”

While a majority of states have long prohibited discrimination of any kind in retail establishments, Florida is not one of them.  Therefore, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has asked State Senator Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington) to include the expanded definition of public accommodations in Senate Bill 120, a statewide civil rights bill he is sponsoring in the 2016 legislative session.

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