Byline: Abel Harding
Despite the fact that some of Jacksonville's largest employers have taken efforts to ensure all discrimination is prohibited in their workplaces, the city of Jacksonville has lagged on an ordinance that would protect all of the city's gay and lesbian residents.
Jacksonville is the only major city in Florida that does not expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, whether in housing, lodging, dining or employment.
That's not exactly a source of pride for many in the city's business community.
Randy Kammer, vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy for insurance giant Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, recently told the Times-Union that the absence of a citywide policy can hurt recruitment for the city's businesses.
"If Jacksonville becomes a city of inclusion," she said, "[T]hen we are going to recruit a better pool of candidates."
The Duval County School Board, the city's second largest employer, updated its policy two years ago to include a prohibition against discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation, whether actual or perceived.
The change hasn't always been smooth, said Josephine Jackson, an attorney who serves as executive director of the School Board's Office of Equity and Inclusion, but the Board felt it was the right thing to do.
The policy puts it in line with other Jacksonville employers who share the downtown skyline, including AT&T Inc., BB&T Corp, CSX Corp., Hyatt Hotels Corp., and SunTrust Banks Inc.
Many have gone further than simply banning discrimination.
The University of North Florida recently began offering health benefits to the domestic partners of its employees. The move put the school in line with what two of its large Southside neighbors, Allstate Corp., and Bank of America Corp., offer their employees.
But, unlike scores of private employers, UNF didn't cite the need to attract the best and the brightest as the reason for the change.
Rather, said vice president of Human Resources Rachelle Gottlieb, it was simply the right thing to do.
"We feel very strongly about treating all employees fairly," Gottlieb said.
Part of Mayor John Peyton's plan to revitalize downtown Jacksonville is to recruit members of the "creative class," that sector of society that Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist, describes as "young, educated, highly mobile workers who are employed in information technology, health care, finance, science, the arts and other knowledge-based fields. …