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City Council approves ordinance prohibiting discrimination

LOS ANGELES — The City Council approved a civil and human rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination and other forms of bigotry in Los Angeles April 17.

The ordinance was approved on a 12-0 vote, along with a second measure to create a commission to investigate violations of residents’ civil rights, with the power to levy fines of up to $125,000 per standard violation and cumulative penalties of up to $250,000 per violation as a result of violent or harassing acts.

The commission would have 15 members, with one member appointed by each of the 15 City Council members and approved by the full council.

“Today’s vote brings us one step closer to making sure our city’s rich diversity is represented in the workplace,” said City Council President Herb Wesson. “With this vote, we are prioritizing vital protections for L.A.’s black and brown workers, including women, immigrants, those who identify as LGBTQ, and Muslims. 

“Employment should be based on a person’s merit, experience, and character, not the color of their skin, where they’re from, or who they love. A big thank you to the Los Angeles Black Worker Center for their work in getting us to this point,” Wesson added.

Peter Schey, a civil rights attorney and the city’s legal adviser on immigration issues, urged passage of the ordinances, which need to be signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti to become official.

“I think it’s going to be a model human rights and civil rights provision that other cities may later adopt, and I think it will provide protection to a large number of people, particularly vulnerable, low-income people who presently for one reason or another fear the federal government’s unfamiliarity with the state’s procedures on having the discrimination that they’ve experienced addressed,” Schey told the council’s Immigrant Affairs, Civil Rights and Equity Committee in February.

The motion creating the ordinance says it “must provide remedies easily accessible to victims of discrimination and include severe penalties to discourage the exploitation of and discrimination against the city’s residents.”

One outstanding issue is the cost of enforcing the ordinance, as current state law may limit the authority of the commission.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act contains a preemption clause which prohibits local enforcement of its provisions, which means the commission would only be able to address discrimination complaints related to the four protected classes included in the city law: citizenship status, partnership status, veteran status and employment or income status, according to Chief Administrative Officer Richard Llewellyn.

Discrimination due to race, ancestry, national origin, religion, creed, age, disability, sex, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation and some others all fall under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and could limit the scope of enforcement of the ordinance, according to Llewellyn.

However, there is an effort underway at the state level to allow the enforcement of state provisions by local jurisdictions, according to Llewellyn.

“This ordinance is designed to discourage human and civil rights violations from occurring at a local level in the city of Los Angeles and also to provide the necessary structures and remedies for the everyday resident to seek assistance should they find themselves in a position of discrimination and vulnerability,” said City Councilman Gil Cedillo, who co-authored the ordinance. “This commission will include an executive director and hearing officers to ensure that each case is given the proper resources and attention it deserves.”

Prior to the vote, a large group of black workers, worker allies, and civil rights advocates gathered on the City Hall South Steps to voice their support and urge the council’s passage of the ordinance.

“Equality and belonging are values that define what it means to be an Angeleno,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “We will not waver in protecting equal opportunity, rejecting bigotry and rooting out discrimination wherever it may exist in Los Angeles. City Hall must lead by example, and I thank Council President Wesson and Councilmember Cedillo for their tireless advocacy on these issues of critical importance.”

The City Council, in its vote, asked the city attorney to report on options for removing the state preemption clause for the California Fair Employment and Housing Act as it relates to enforcement in the city.

The cost of setting up the commission and its staff would be $237,768 over three months, according to the CAO’s office.

The 12-month cost of operating the commission — which would include staff from the City Attorney’s Office — would be just over $3 million if the commission is preempted from enforcing FEHA — more than $9.7 million if it is not.

The effective date of the civil rights ordinance would be Jan. 1, 2020.

Staff and Wire Reports