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Decatur City Commission could vote on nondiscrimination ordinance on Nov. 18

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Decatur City Commission could vote on nondiscrimination ordinance on Nov. 18

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Commissioners, pictured left to right, are: Brian Smith, Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers, Kelly Walsh, Mayor Patti Garrett, and Scott Drake. Image obtained via the city of Decatur.


A nondiscrimination ordinance that would allow residents to file discrimination complaints with the city of Decatur is scheduled for a vote at the Nov. 18 City Commission meeting.

City Commissioners discussed the proposed ordinance at their Nov. 4 meeting. Decatur’s ordinance will be similar to ordinances approved by the cities of Doraville, Clarkston, Chamblee and Dunwoody.

To see a draft copy of the nondiscrimination ordinance, click here. This draft may be tweaked prior to the Nov. 18 City Commission meeting.

There’s no federal law and no state law protecting members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination.

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According to a presentation from the Nov. 4 meeting, Decatur’s law would provide protection from discrimination to anyone wanting to live, work or conduct business in the city of Decatur. The law would, “Ensure that LGBTQ community members receive the same protection from discrimination as other protected classes.”

It is intended to address areas not currently covered by state and federal laws. It would outlaw discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

People who feel they’ve experienced discrimination would file a complaint to the City Manager. The city would issue a court summons while also offering the parties a chance to mediate their dispute. If there’s no way to mediate it, there would be a preliminary hearing, a trial and a ruling by a judge on whether there’s been a violation. If the accused party is found guilty, they would face a $500 fine on a first offense and a $1,000 fine for any subsequent offense.

There would be a communication and education effort once the law is passed. One important aspect of the ordinance is that it would not supersede state or federal law.

“If there’s a state and federal law that already exist that would address this type of discrimination, it means our law is preempted and would not be able to be heard in our jurisdiction,” City Manager Andrea Arnold said during the Nov. 4 work session.

There would also be exemptions carved out for religious organizations.

The following exceptions apply:

– A religious corporation, association, or society that employs an individual of a particular religion to perform work connected with the performance of religious activities by the corporation, association, or society.

– An employer who observes the conditions of a bona fide affirmative action plan or a bona fide seniority system which is not a pretext to evade the purposes of this ordinance.

– A business is not required to hire unqualified or incompetent personnel.

– This ordinance does not prohibit an employer from requiring an employee, during the employee’s hours at work, to adhere to reasonable and equitable dress or grooming standards not prohibited by other provisions of Federal, State or local law, provided that all employees are permitted to dress in a manner consistent with their gender identity.

– A business is not required to make changes to any existing facility that would require a building permit, except as otherwise required by law.

– This ordinance does not prohibit a religious organization from limiting its noncommercial accommodations, advantages, facilities, membership, and privileges to persons of the same religion.

– This ordinance shall not be construed in such a way as to violate any person’s rights under the United States Constitution or the Georgia Constitution.

Source: Draft of the city of Decatur’s nondiscrimination ordinance. 

Arnold said at some point there may be a change in the law at the state or federal level that would require changes in the ordinance. She acknowledged that the city has been criticized for lagging behind other cities in adopting a nondiscrimination ordinance.

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“We didn’t want to create something to say we have a nondiscrimination ordinance. We wanted to be able to say with confidence if and when it’s challenged it can be defended,” Arnold said. “Being first is not always the best.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers said he agreed with that approach.

“We went through due diligence of crafting something that will stand the test of time,” he said. “And we may never have to use it. That would be even better.”

Editor’s note: This story was reported by viewing a live video stream of the Nov. 4 City Commission meeting. 

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