United States: Houston City Council Passes City's First Anti-Discrimination In Private Employment Ordinance

On May 28, 2014, the Houston City Council passed the city's first ordinance to ban discrimination in private workplaces, and to expand the types of prohibited discrimination for employers subject to this ordinance, as noted below. Houston is one of the last major cities in the United States to adopt such an ordinance, and joins Texas cities Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, and San Antonio, which have already adopted their own similar ordinances. In addition to banning discrimination in the workplace, the Houston ordinance applies to housing, public city employment, and city contracting. The ordinance goes into effect on June 27, 2014. 

What Employers Need to Know About the New Ordinance 

The new Houston ordinance will apply to companies with 50 or more employees, and exempts religious institutions. This differs from most federal employment anti-discrimination laws, which apply to companies with as few as 15 employees—or 20 in the case of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). 

While the local ordinance incorporates those protected categories already recognized under state and federal private workplace anti-discrimination laws, the ordinance extends the ban on private workplace discrimination to four new categories that were not previously recognized under laws applicable to private employers in Texas. In particular, while the ordinance reiterates the long-standing ban on workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, military status, religion, disability, genetic information, and pregnancy, it also recognizes familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, and gender identity as categories that are protected from workplace discrimination.1

The ordinance defines these protected categories as follows: 

Familial Status means the status of a person resulting from being domiciled with an individual younger than 18 years of age in regard to whom the person:

  1. Is the parent or legal custodian; or
  2. Has the written permission of the parent or legal custodian to live with the individual; or
  3. Is in the process of obtaining legal custody.

Gender Identity means an individual's innate identification, appearance, expression, or behavior as either male or female, although the same may not correspond to the individual's body or gender assigned at birth.

Sexual Orientation means the actual or perceived status of a person with respect to his or her sexuality.

Although the ordinance does not define marital status discrimination, it would be reasonable to view the ordinance as intended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person's marital status, including bias against and presumptions about an individual based on the fact that he or she is married, single, or divorced. 

Administrative Enforcement of the Ordinance

Under the terms of the ordinance, an employee or applicant can file a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General at the City Attorney's Office. The statute of limitations is 180 days following the alleged violation. If the complaint states a claim that is within the jurisdiction of either the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Texas Workforce Commission, the Office of the Inspector General will refer the case to the appropriate agency. Under the terms of the ordinance, therefore, the Office of the Inspector General should only investigate complaints that implicate those protected categories not already covered by federal and state private employment anti-discrimination laws. 

The ordinance contemplates a one-year maximum period for the Office of the Inspector General to complete its investigation, and arms investigators with subpoena power to compel companies to produce documents and/or witnesses as part of the investigative process. Investigators are also required to engage affirmatively in conciliation if the investigation reveals a violation of the ordinance. In the event conciliation fails, the Office of the Inspector General is directed to refer the matter to the City Attorney, who can then pursue Class C misdemeanor criminal charges that carry the potential for fines not to exceed $5,000 per violation. 

Significantly, the ordinance does not provide any civil enforcement mechanism. Unlike the enforcement provisions in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the ADEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), and other federal and state anti-discrimination laws, individual employees may not bring suit against their employers for alleged violations of the ordinance. While the ordinance carries the potential for a Class C misdemeanor fine of up to $5,000 per violation, the lack of a civil enforcement provision and the fact that Title VII, the ADEA, the ADA, and the TCHRA provide an avenue for employees to sue employers in state or federal court suggests that the new ordinance is unlikely to increase discrimination litigation for employers. It may, however, result in an increase in administrative charges filed against a company, particularly with respect to claims involving alleged sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital and familial status discrimination. 

Practical Steps for Covered Employers

Because the EEOC has traditionally taken the position that the prohibitions against sex discrimination under Title VII extend coverage to related statuses like marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and familial status, many Houston employers may already have policies in place and have trained management to recognize issues implicating any of these protected categories. For those employers subject to the ordinance that have not done so already, however, employee handbooks and policies should be revised to clarify that discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of familial status, marital status, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation—in addition to other protected categories already recognized under federal and state law—will not be tolerated. 

To the extent employers have not already updated their policies or specifically trained human resources personnel, managers, and supervisors on anti-discrimination and anti-harassment practices with regard to the new protected categories, employers should do so now in anticipation of the new ordinance.Gender identify and familial status discrimination will likely require employers to provide additional training to help management better understand some of the particular concerns and issues that arise in these arenas.

Footnote

1 Many other states and localities across the United States already expressly recognize marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and familial status as protected categories for private employment purposes. While the Houston ordinance has garnered considerable publicity over the protections it extends to sexual orientation and gender identity, familial status is in fact the least commonly recognized protected category in private employment anti-discrimination laws throughout the United States, making this ordinance one of the few to extend protections to individuals on account of their childcare responsibilities.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

    Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of www.mondaq.com

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

    Disclaimer

    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

    Registration

    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

    Cookies

    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

    Links

    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

    Mail-A-Friend

    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

    Emails

    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .

    Security

    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions