Hilliard City Council poised to introduce legislation related to LGBTQ protections

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group
Hilliard City Hall is at 3800 Municipal Way.

Hilliard City Council could introduce legislation March 8 that is intended to revise city code to extend protection for LGBTQ residents from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, according to council member Andy Teater.

“This ordinance is necessary because it expands important civil rights to a segment of our community that currently does not have those protections,” Teater said. “There is some federal protection currently in effect, but those are a confusing mix of legislation, executive orders and case law.

"This ordinance will protect the LGBTQ residents of Hilliard from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations."

It is the same proposal that was referenced in a Hilliard Davidson High School assistant principal's Feb. 16 email directing staff members to encourage students in a classroom setting to write to council in support of expanding a local anti-discrimination policy.

The email drew public attention after a Columbus public-policy organization called the Center for Christian Virtue revealed it in a Feb. 18 news release, and because the action was associated with "distribution of political literature" in relation to students, it was deemed "not appropriate" by Hilliard City Schools in a statement later the same day.

Work on crafting the language for the proposed legislation began in 2019 during sessions of a charter-review commission and continued last year after proposed language in the city code to protect the LGBTQ community stalled, he said.

“Currently, the state of Ohio does not give protections to members of the LGBTQ community," Teater said. "Any protections afforded in our state have been enacted by local communities and governing bodies."

To that end, council member Cynthia Vermillion, in a Jan. 15 email asked that other council members provide feedback to the council clerk, without copying the other members. She also asked that no member of council attempt to the revise the ordinance.

“We have spent countless hours writing and revising and have vetted it through the legal department,” Vermillion wrote.

Vermillion’s email referenced a student representative who “has already begun an extensive engagement of the school community,” naming the same Hilliard Bradley High School student referenced in the Feb. 16 email from Davidson assistant principal Kristen Clausen.

Vermillion's Jan. 15 email included an attachment of a draft to replace Section 525.15 of the city code, “Discriminatory Practices, Civil Rights, Disclosures,” with an alternate version that is expected to be introduced March 8.

Vermillion told ThisWeek that the proposed legislation is necessary because the Ohio legislature has failed to approve the Ohio Fairness Act, leaving each Ohio community to act on its own to further protect citizens.

The Ohio Fairness Act, bipartisan legislation that would protect LGBTQ Ohioans from discrimination in employment, housing, and accommodations, remains stalled in the Ohio General Assembly, according to a story published by cleveland.com.

However, council member Omar Tarazi, an attorney, has voiced some concerns about the proposed legislation.

"Anti-discrimination legislation is fundamentally flawed at the city level because nobody with a real discrimination claim goes to their local city hall looking for a $1,000 fine against their employer," Tarazi said. "Instead, they file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, get an attorney and file a lawsuit for compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees, which are available for LGBTQ workers.

"In my view, anti-discrimination legislation at the city level should be focused exclusively and narrowly to areas not covered by federal or state law, and only if the financial resources spent hiring and training the staff to implement it effectively makes sense relative to the caseload."

Tarazi said he is drafting another version of legislation for consideration.

City Council's committee-of-the-whole is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. March 8 at the Hilliard Municipal Building, 3800 Municipal Way, to discuss the proposal.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo