Worthington’s nondiscrimination ordinance likely will be introduced to Worthington City Council in early May to allow for more time for revision, according to city leaders.

Law director Tom Lindsey said the draft of the ordinance would not be presented for a public hearing Monday, April 15, as originally intended because he wanted more time to review it.

“We want to make sure (to) dot the i’s and cross the t’s before we bring it forward,” he said.

The ordinance has been under development by the Worthington Community Relations Commission.

It is intended to provide protections against discrimination of age, ancestry, color, disability, familial status, gender identity or expression, genetic information, marital status, military status, national origin, race, sex and sexual orientation, said Lori Trego, staff liaison for the commission and personnel director and assistant to the city manager for Worthington.

According to the city’s website, worthington.org, protections would extend to housing, services, employment and “public accommodations” through Worthington. Under the ordinance, those who believe they have been discriminated against could file a “charge” with a Worthington city clerk. 

Depending on the circumstances, the Community Relations Commission would proceed with an investigation or recommend a complaint be filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the ordinance text. If mediation offered by the Community Relations Commission were unsuccessful, a cease-and-desist order and a fine would be issued by the city.

If someone fails to comply with a cease-and-desist order, the city could charge the respondent with failure to comply with the order, Lindsey said. The draft of the ordinance would make it a criminal offense, a first-degree misdemeanor, he said.

This criminal charge could be filed in Worthington Mayor’s Court or Franklin County Municipal Court, Lindsey said. It would be prosecuted similar to any other criminal offense, he said.

A public forum on the first draft of the ordinance was held Feb. 27, and the Community Relations Commission presented a second draft to City Council on March 11. 

Lindsey said a revised draft of the ordinance was issued April 1 and it is available at worthington.org.

He said the changes included in the April 1 draft are a clarification about the exemption for faith-based organizations regarding public accommodations.

Lindsey said a religious exemption for “public accommodations” could include church housing provided for pastors, seminarians or religious communities, temporary assistance housing, food pantries or emergency-relief services. The exemption would permit a religious institution to restrict these goods or services to its members institution or allow members to receive first priority in the event of limited resources.

He said the section has been clarified to say if an activity was for commercial purpose or supported by public funds, it would not qualify for an exemption. 

Lindsey said a change to clarify language also was made to the dollar amounts for violations.

According to the updated draft, the hearing officer would have the authority to issue a $1,000 penalty as the lowest offense. If the respondent had committed a violation immediately preceding the date within the five-year period in which a penalty was filed, the person would be issued a penalty of $2,500. If the respondent had committed two or more violations in the five-year period, he or she would be issued a civil penalty of $5,000.

Lindsey said the next steps for the process would be to make more changes and “determine the extent of any input.”

He said if the changes are extensive, they would be brought to a City Council work session. If not, he said, the ordinance would be introduced May 13 to City Council, but it could be held back depending on his workload.

“We want to make sure it’s as well-written as we can,” Lindsey said.

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