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City adopts nondiscrimination ordinance for employees, entities receiving city services

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — City Council members on Tuesday approved a nondiscrimination ordinance that allows for termination of city employees or rejection of city services if violated.

Salisbury now joins cities such as Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in adopting similar ordinances following the expiration of certain sections of a state law passed in 2017 to repeal the controversial “House Bill 2.” That bill omitted protections for sexual orientation as well as gender identity and expression and required all multiple-person bathrooms in government buildings be designated for use based on someone biological sex only. The 2017 law prevented local governments from enacting or amending an ordinance “regulating public accommodations” or “regulating private employment practices.” Both prohibitions expired in December 2020.

The city’s adopted ordinance prohibits discrimination among city employees and calls on all departments, committees, boards and commissions to “use their full power and resources, as by law duly given, to prohibit and discourage discrimination as set forth in this ordinance.”

“The policy of the city is, and shall be, to oppose discrimination based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, creed, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, marital or familial status, National Guard or veteran status, or any other status protected by federal, state or local law,” the city’s ordinance states.

The ordinance also includes a clause that agreement with the nondiscrimination policy is a condition for bidders, proposers or applicants receiving city services or grants, with such a provision included in all contracts. Violation would include rejection of services or termination without fault to the city.

The ordinance cannot be used to create any requirement, power or duty in conflict with any existing federal or state laws. City Attorney Graham Corriher said it doesn’t regulate private employment practices or public accommodations beyond existing regulations in state and federal law.

“Recognizing the substantial benefits that an equitable, diverse, and inclusive community provides, the city supports those community members and businesses whose efforts ensure that Salisbury is and continues to be a community free from discrimination,” the ordinance states. “Equity, diversity and inclusion are cornerstones of a strong local economy and commercial activities within Salisbury should support economic growth and not hamper it. The city will not tolerate unlawful discrimination and encourages Salisbury’s corporate and individual community members to oppose discrimination in all forms.”

The ordinance became effective once passed.

The ordinance was first discussed in February during the council’s 2021 goal-setting session. Corriher provided a draft ordinance in March based on nearby cities, but council members requested he gather more information to ensure it’s inclusive and suitable for Salisbury.

There are state and federal laws in place that provide protection, and the city has various policies that deter harassment and discrimination, but council member Tamara Sheffield said at the March meeting they don’t go far enough.

“I appreciate (Corriher’s) leadership on pumping the brakes in March for us to do our due diligence, reach out to a lot of organizations, making sure we’re doing what fits Salisbury and to send a message,” Sheffield said. “There’s nonprotected classes that are out there and we need to stand and say, ‘Hey, here, if you’re dealing with the city as an employee or someone that is going to work for the city, that we’re not going to tolerate that,’ and encourage other businesses to follow suit and do the right thing for all our citizens.”

Council member Brian Miller thanked Sheffield for bringing the issue to council members.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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