Scottsdale City Council put the finishing touches on a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance that it plans to approve April 20.
At a study session March 23, the Council fine-tuned the measure, adding limited exceptions and adding active-duty military and veterans to its list of protected classes.
The proposed ordinance would expand on existing federal and state non-discrimination laws by adding protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It would also extend anti-discrimination protections to people working for businesses with fewer than 15 employees.
The proposal, first recommended by the Scottsdale Human Relations Commission last summer, would prohibit employment discrimination in most businesses and all appointed and elected positions based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The proposed ordinance also requests that Council enforce complaints of discrimination through a mediation process.
If the complaint is deemed valid, there would be civil charges, including warnings and incremental fines with a cap at $2,500.
The ordinance would also include a policy statement applicable to the city government itself, prohibiting discrimination for protected groups in city services, programs and contracts.
Attempts to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance date back to 2015 when former Councilor Virginia Korte proposed a similar measure that failed to gain traction with Council at the time.
Korte then supported the current proposal when it was first proposed by the city’s Human Relations Commission in 2020, but, again, the measure failed to gain the support of the council majority.
Despite those roadblocks, the push for an anti-discrimination ordinance in the city gained momentum earlier this year with the new council, including Mayor David Ortega and freshman members Betty Janik, Tom Durham and Tammy Caputi.
All four newcomers – and veteran members Linda Milhaven, Kathy Littlefield and Solange Whitehead – have voiced support for the ordinance.
If passed, the proposal would be the second anti-discrimination ordinance passed by a Valley city this year after Mesa City Council approved a similar measure on March 1.
But opponents of the measure are racing against an April 1 deadline to gather 10,000 petition signatures to put the ordinance up for a voter referendum.
“As I’ve said before, we’re no longer leading on this issue, we’re following,” Caputi said. “It’s way past time…we should be promoting equality under the law for all of our citizens.”
On March 23, Council directed not only the addition of military members, veterans and their families to the list of classes protected following a recommendation from the city Veterans Advisory Commission.
That inclusion goes beyond language in ordinances passed by Mesa, Sedona and Tempe, which only list veterans as a protected category.
Assistant City Manager Brent Stockwell said there is little indication that veterans are subject to discrimination in the community, but said those types of issues have occurred in the past, citing backlash against Vietnam veterans in the 1960s and 1970s.
“They weren’t saying that it was common, but the Veterans Advisory Commission thought it might make sense to put it in place now rather than wait until there was a problem,” Stockwell said.
Scottsdale’s ordinance will also include limited exceptions, including a stipulation requested by Littlefield and Durham that would exempt individuals renting out a room within their personal home.
The ordinance also includes exceptions in employment and public accommodations for religious organizations and private-membership organizations that have received IRS nonprofit status.
Notably, the proposed ordinance would not include a blanket exception for small businesses, which make up approximately 80 percent of all businesses in Scottsdale.
Korte, who faced pressure to include that type of blanket exception in her 2015 proposal, said it would render any anti-discrimination ordinance ineffective.
“Well, if you carve out small businesses with 15 employees or less, you’re carving out (a majority) of the business in Scottsdale. So, you know, how convenient is that?” Korte told the Progress in 2019.
This time around, Littlefield expressed concern that the new proposal could open small family businesses up to complaints and onerous fines if they choose to hire family members and friends.
“If they say ‘no, we’re going to hire Uncle Joe’…and someone (outside of the family) says ‘well, I’m going to file my complaint; it’s a violation of my rights to be considered,” Littlefield said.
But City Attorney Sherry Scott said the ordinance would only be triggered if a business put out a public call for applications – such as a hiring sign on the front window – and then discriminates against a member of a protected class as part of that public hiring process.
“This does not prohibit a business owner of any size from hiring their uncle, their father, their kids, their best friend,” Scott said.
“What it prohibits is if it has a position that’s open to the public and has some sort of selection process from not selecting someone who applied, because of one of the protected characteristics.”