The first draft of Houston’s proposed Non-discrimination ordinance has officially been unveiled to the public and will be introduced to the City Council in the coming days (IT IS AVAILABLE HERE). In short, and to answer everyone’s question, the ordinance protects LGBT rights in private employment…sometimes. As I have previously elucidated, discrimination is typically legislated against in three ways. First, the government prohibits any internal discrimination of its own, be that in public employment, public services or in the private companies it contracts therewith. Second, discrimination in public accommodations is prohibited. This hails back to the days of the Civil Rights movement, when the original bills on these topics were aimed to combat bus lines, restaurants or bars that had segregated sections. Similarly, this proposed ordinance would ban, for example, a restaurant denying service to a gay patron.
But what if the restaurant had a lesbian employee who was fired upon coming out to her boss? That is what the third section of the ordinance, regarding private employment, deals therewith. I cannot say that I have heard of all too many cases of private employers firing people because of their sexual orientation, and given that Texas uses at-will employment it would be enormously silly to choose such a route for termination. However, the principle of protecting LGBT populations is important nonetheless, important enough to necessitate pertinent legislation on the subject. Just one person being fired for such an asinine reason is one too many.
Specifically, the private employment provisions only apply to businesses of at least 50 employees or more. In an ideal world, that distinction would not be added, but I am comfortable with its inclusion. Additionally, a broad range of religious organizations would also be exempted from the ordinance. Obviously, a gay Catholic priest should not be able to sue if he comes out, it would be excessive for him to bring suit against the Church for discrimination. However, the lines are somewhat blurred if, say, a religious hospital fires a physician or some other purely civilian occupation for sexual orientation. The ordinance explicitly notes that school and universities may be considered “religious organizations” if they are parochial, though it remains silent on institutions such as hospitals.
“Equal protection under law is a cornerstone of our democracy and [this ordinance] will help ensure that all citizens and guests to our City experience that inclusiveness and diversity for which Houston is known,” Councilmemebr Ellen Cohen said. “For these reasons, I strongly support this ordinance and, at the Mayor’s request, am advocating amongst my colleagues on the Council for its passage.”
Among other City Councilmemebrs, Stephen Costello’s office said he had “generally favorable” opinions of the ordinance, while most others refrained from taking any definitive position until they finished thoroughly looking over the draft ordinance.