On August 9, the Charlotte City Council gave final approval to a new ordinance that expands protections for employees and customers based on a range of protected classifications. After considerable debate, the final version of the ordinance includes a new prohibition against discrimination based on the following protected classes: race, color, gender, religion, national origin, ethnicity, age, familial status, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), veteran status, pregnancy, natural hairstyle, and disability. The new measure amends a 1968 ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin by public accommodations in the city.
The employment provisions apply to all Charlotte employers regardless of size, with exceptions for religious organizations. People who believe that they have been discriminated against can file administrative complaints with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee. The committee may in its discretion require complaining parties to pursue their claims with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if that agency has jurisdiction. The ordinance does not provide for a private cause of action.
How will this new ordinance affect Charlotte employers? It covers claims and employers beyond current state and federal law. For example, the EEOC only has jurisdiction over employers with 15 or more workers and would not investigate claims based on familial or veteran status. The ordinance does not detail the investigative process or the city’s options if it concludes that an employee has been discriminated against. The Community Relations Committee does not have the authority to fine or sue employers found in violation of these requirements. It could hold public hearings or attempt to conciliate claims.
If Charlotte attempts to sue employers to force compliance with the ordinance, defendants could contend that the new ordinance is not within the city’s grant of authority under state law. At present, the new ordinance appears to be a strong statement by the City Council with regard to expectations of companies operating in the city, but it may not provide much in terms of enforcement authority or penalties. The employment provisions of the new ordinance take effect January 1, 2022.