Gavel, scales of justice and law books

Scottsdale City Council could adopt a citywide anti-discrimination ordinance following a recommendation from the Scottsdale Human Services Commission last month.

At its meeting Aug. 10, the commission unanimously voted to recommend adopting an ordinance that would ban most businesses and all elected and appointed officials from discriminating against individuals due to ethnicity, age, race, sex, gender, national origin, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

The commission also voted to recommend adoption of an anti-harassment, non-discrimination and non-retaliation policy for elected officials and appointed members of the city’s boards and commissions.

Commission Chair Janice Shimokubo and Vice Chair Emily Hinchman sent a letter to Council asking it to add the proposals to an agenda within 60 days, but there is currently no date set for a Council discussion of the recommendations.

“After their recommendation was shared with the City Council, the city manager has asked staff to do additional research before bringing this item forward for City Council discussion,” said Sharon Cini, Scottsdale’s diversity and inclusion program manager.

“We will be working on that research, will keep the Commission updated on our progress, and will bring it forward when the research has been completed to the City Manager’s satisfaction,” Cini said.

The ordinance would ban discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations.

Valid complaints would be referred to a mediator and charges would only be filed following a review by the City Attorney.

A complaint could result in civil charges and could include warnings and incremental fines of up to $2,500. 

The proposed ordinance would forbid elected and appointed officials from retaliating against anyone filing a complaint.

Initially, the policy would limit potential punishment to a formal vote by Council to accept or reject the complaint following an investigation and possible removal of an offending board or commission member.

The commission also recommended that Council consider referring a charter amendment to voters that would allow the censure of Council members for violations.

In 2015, Councilmember Virginia Korte proposed an anti-discrimination ordinance but it ultimately failed to move past early discussions.

In 2019, Korte discussed the failed effort in the wake of a “Scottsdale Discriminates” ad campaign designed to push back at efforts by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale-based anti-LGBTQ group. 

At the time, Korte told the Progress that the 2015 effort stalled because some on Council wanted to add exceptions for small businesses with 15 or fewer employees – something she said would have limited the ordinance’s effectiveness.

 “Well, if you carve out small businesses with 15 employees or less, you’re carving out (about 95 percent) of the business in Scottsdale. So, you know, how convenient is that?” Korte said.

Mayor Jim Lane told the Progress there were also concerns the ordinance would negatively impact religious freedoms.

However, Korte said protections – such as the Arizona’s 1999 Religious Freedom Restoration Act – are already in place to protect religious institutions and individuals.

The ordinance proposed by the Human Relations Commission does not exempt small businesses.

The ordinance exempts religious organizations but the commission decided to remove exemptions for nonprofits and political parties.

“As the national discourse on race continues, people and companies expect equality, basic fairness, and equity in the places they live, work and visit,” the commission told Council. “Our city, for all its other virtues and positive attributes, lacks policies to ensure basic necessities.”

The commission wrote that adopting the policies was an effort to simply “do the right thing” but also made more pragmatic arguments, stating that major local businesses expect this action.

“Businesses with strong foundations in Scottsdale ... are all committed to fostering diverse organizations that value and support each individual - and they expect the communities in which they operate to reflect those values,” according to the letter.

The commission also argued that adoption of the policies would benefit Scotts-dale’s tourism industry.