Oklahoma City Council Defers Sexual Orientation Proposal

Article excerpt

City Council members temporarily set aside a proposal by Oklahoma City Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid to include sexual orientation in a list of groups protected from employment discrimination Tuesday.

Shadid said that even if an employee's orientation is covered under other laws - which may not actually be the case, contrary to common assumption, he said - adding two words to an ordinance would cause no harm and would actually help portray the city in a positive light.

Ward 7 Councilman Skip Kelly said it was unnecessary to make a change because there have been no examples of such discrimination that need to be addressed in Oklahoma City. He also called for "empirical data" to back up the amendment.

The city's current ordinance on equal employment opportunity lists only those classes already explicitly protected by federal and state law, such as race, gender and ethnic origin. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is not identified.

But a memo from City Counselor Kenneth Jordan to provide additional background on Shadid's proposal says some jurisdictions have determined that sexual orientation issues have a "degree of protection" under the umbrella of gender or sex discrimination.

Shadid said it would be better to add a degree of certainty to the city's policies than risk discrimination by implied silent consent. Several Oklahoma communities have already introduced sexual orientation protections into formal policy, including Perry, Noble, Chickasha, Muskogee, Tulsa and McAlester.

"It's not just municipalities; it's business," he said. "Large businesses across America are also recognizing that this is good business policy."

He cited a recent report by the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign that found more than 300 large companies have included nondiscrimination language in hiring policies to protect sexual orientation. Shadid also pointed to a study by the Williams Institute at the law school of the University of California in Los Angeles that found workers who have been able to reveal their sexual orientation are more productive. That study reported that even heterosexual employees have reported seeing discriminatory action against their homosexual colleagues.

Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee said that even though he supported Shadid's position, he felt the need to be cautious in tackling a legal issue that state legislators have decided to leave unchanged.

"And there's a considerable amount of research on who earns the most money," McAtee said. "One side, the side in favor of Dr. Shadid's approach, says that the LGBT group (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people) is financially disadvantaged. …