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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 28, 2006

Quietly, Canton passes an equal job measure

by Eric Resnick

Canton--Ohio's ninth largest city quietly became the state's 13th to protect lesbians and gays, and possibly transgender people, from discrimination on April 19 when a job bias ordinance passed last month took effect.

The ordinance amending the law defining and dealing with unfair employment practices passed council unanimously on March 20, purposely without publicity.

The measure added "disability" and "sexual orientation" as protected classes, and changed "sex" to "gender." It also updated other language throughout the old ordinance, which had not been changed since 1977.

The law covers all employees, public and private, in the city of Canton and "his or her spouse, with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment," including job training and union practices.

"We should have done it a lot sooner," said Mayor Janet Creighton, a Republican, "but we needed to get a grasp of the political climate."

Creighton sponsored the ordinance, adding, "The good news is that it was no issue at all."

Creighton took office in January 2004. Attempts had been made to add sexual orientation as a protected class since December, 2001, when the nine-member Fair Employment Practices Board chaired by Rabbi John Spitzer of Temple Israel voted unanimously to make the change. Members of the board are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by council for three year terms.

The board, which the ordinance also authorizes, hears employment discrimination complaints, attempts mediation, then turns unresolveable matters over to the city law department for further legal action if necessary. The board has the power to convene hearings and subpoena witnesses.

Ironically, the ordinance omits sexual orientation and disability in the section describing the board's composition.

"The composition of the board shall represent the diversity of the city in terms of race, religion, gender, age, and occupation," it reads. All except "occupation" were already protected classes.

No one acted on the board's first recommendation.

In October 2002, it voted unanimously for the change again. That time, a similar ordinance was introduced by then council majority leader Bill Smuckler, a Democrat. That effort died after only one reading.

The board made its third recommendation for the change with another unanimous vote in September, 2004. That request was received favorably by Creighton.

Law Director Joe Martuccio, a long time LGBT community advocate and the ordinance's author, also backed the effort.

"We finally just decided to do it," said Creighton. "There should be fair employment."

A separate board enforces equal housing laws which are in a separate section of Canton's code. That board has not pushed for an upgrade, and no one has considered it.

Creighton said she would consider a similar recommendation from the housing board should they bring it to her.

"I would want to review a fair housing ordinance," said Creighton, "but anything is possible, and I would look at it."

Because the code section encompasses the entire scope of fair employment and labor practices, previous attempts have gotten mired in matters unrelated to sexual orientation, such as rules governing the hiring of strike-breakers.

Martuccio met with labor leaders and their advocates in council to get past those issues.

'Gender' would protect TG workers

Though it is arguable, Martuccio, a Democrat, believes that the use of the word "gender" instead of "sex" also protects transgender employees, and said the city would argue that position in any legal action.

Council Judicial committee chair Tom West, a Democrat who also took office in 2004, led the ordinance through the committee without opposition.

Like Creighton, West was initially unaware that the city does not include sexual orientation in its fair housing ordinance, adding that he would favor an update there, too.

"If it can get through, it is definitely warranted," said West.

West credited some changes on council for the ordinance's easy passage.

Spitzer credits the board's resolve.

"We continued to knock on the door," Spitzer said. "We never stopped urging it."

"The issues over the strike-breaker clause have been satisfied, and others have been convinced that this is not social legislation pushing a social agenda," Spitzer said.

Spitzer declined to speculate if the ordinance could lead to domestic partner benefits, but said the board would hear complaints brought by people who feel discriminated against because they are not getting them.

"If an African-American not paid compensatory time can prove it happened because they are black, it is discrimination," said Spitzer. "This board intends to hear complaints based on sexual orientation discrimination."

Asked again if that means a claim of discrimination due to lack of domestic partner benefits, Spitzer said, "I assume we could."

With the new measure, Canton joins four other Ohio cities with sexual orientation in their equal employment ordinances: Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Youngstown, plus the new Cincinnati one which is suspended pending a referendum. The other cities also cover housing, public accommodation and other areas. Toledo and Cincinnati also explicitly include transgender people.

"Sexual orientation" ordinances in Athens, Oberlin and Cleveland Heights cover city workers as well as housing and, in the first two, public accommodations. Yellow Springs, East Cleveland, North Olmsted, Lakewood and Westlake cover housing only.

The 13 cities with ordinances in effect cover a sixth of Ohio's population.

No federal or Ohio equal rights law includes sexual orientation or gender identity.

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