A new rule book for Chattanooga city employees cleared its first vote, but not without another effort to remove "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" from the city's rules prohibiting discrimination and harassment.
The two terms were hotly debated in June and July, when Councilman Chris Anderson proposed an ordinance to protect the city's gay and transgender employees. That ordinance ultimately passed on July 22, after protections for religious freedom were included.
Tuesday's vote is the first step at removing all city personnel rules from code and replacing them with a handbook which can be changed with council approval by the city administration.facebook
Before the vote, Councilman Chip Henderson sought an amendment to replace the current language of the nondiscrimination ordinance, which specifically includes protections for gay and transgender employees, with verbatim U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules, which do not specifically use the terms sexual orientation or gender identity.
Councilman Ken Smith seconded the amendment for discussion's sake, but only Henderson supported it.
Councilman Jerry Mitchell said he greatly respected Henderson, "but I feel this amendment will put into the hands of the federal government the job to protect our employees."
He said city employees should be protected under home rule, and he urged fellow council members to oppose Henderson's amendment. And they did.
Henderson said he was considering an amendment last week.
Referencing a 2009 revision of the EEOC rules, Henderson said the federal rule didn't reference sexual orientation or gender identity.
But Anderson said that courts had ruled the federal provision on sex included both terms.
And on Tuesday, Anderson cited executive orders by President Barack Obama that clearly extended EEOC protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
During an agenda session Tuesday, City Attorney Wade Hinton acknowledged that sexual orientation and gender identity were not specifically protected in the statutory language of the federal rules. And that the language Henderson is suggesting does mirror the federal law.
However, he added that "courts have been interpreting that sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity."
But when Anderson asked if changing the city's language would "strip out protections for sexual orientation and gender identity" and "remove the protections we passed," Hinton answered with one word: "Yes."
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrog email@example.com, @glbrogdoniv on Twitter or at 423-757-6481.