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Anti-discrimination rules now apply to businesses inside Winston-Salem
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Anti-discrimination rules now apply to businesses inside Winston-Salem

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The Winston-Salem City Council on Monday approved public accommodation and employment protections for LGBTQ people and members of other protected classes, extending rules to the private sector that apply now only to city government.

Most of the new protections go into effect on Jan. 1, although some enforcement provisions don’t take effect until next March.

“It is a huge step for Winston-Salem,” said Kevin Mundy, the city’s only openly-gay member of the city council. “There are several other cities that got ahead of us from a timing perspective, but we have been working on it as long as those other cities have.”

Passage of the anti-discrimination ordinances was unanimous on the council Monday night. Republican Council Member Robert Clark, who had abstained in committee when the matter came up for discussion last week, joined the council’s seven Democrats in backing the ordinances.

The council action follows anti-discrimination measures passed in March that affected city operations only, and another measure passed in June that imposed the regulations on companies seeking to enter into contracts with the city.

The new measures put the city into company with the cities of Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham and Asheville, the towns of Apex, Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough and Buncombe and Orange counties, which have passed similar ordinances affecting public accommodation and employment.

City officials said similar measures are also being examined in Raleigh, Fayetteville and Wilmington and in Chatham, Durham, Mecklenburg and Wake counties.

The following categories are covered by the city’s non-discrimination ordinance: race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, protected hairstyles, pregnancy, disability, age, veteran status, marital status, familial status or political affiliation.

The protected hairstyles provision refers to hairstyles or hair texture “historically associated with race” and including braids, twists, tight coils and cornrows.

The city ordinance will not regulate multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers or changing facilities. Nor does the ordinance apply to private clubs or other places not open to the public.

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The ordinances also do not apply to religious corporations, associations or societies.

In committee discussion last week, city officials said the new regulations will be delayed until Jan. 1 because of the need to hire additional city staff.

City attorney Angela Carmon told the city’s general government committee that it is anticipated that the city may be asked to rule on employment discrimination complaints because the city’s window of action — 60 days — is so much shorter than that of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which follows a 180-day timetable.

Officials do not yet know what additional level of work may be required to handle those claims.

For now, the city is adding two additional positions in its Human Relations Department, one for reaching out to people to let them know about the new regulations, and the other to do investigations and mediation.

Under the new regulations, complaints about discrimination in public accommodation or employment will be investigated by Human Relations, with efforts at conciliation and voluntary agreement if the department finds reasonable grounds for concluding a violation has taken place.

Hearings can follow if conciliation doesn’t work, and city officials can pursue civil action in court as well.

Here, the most prominent public-accommodation issue arose in December 2020, when a local venue, The Warehouse on Ivy, turned down a same-sex couple who had wanted to book the site for a wedding. The owner of the venue cited religious objections as the reason for turning down the event.

During committee last week, Clark had questioned whether the city was “trying to supersede the court system” by regulating business activities that are handled by federal law. On Monday, Carmon told council members that if the city’s rules and those of the EEOC are substantially the same, it could avoid duplication of effort.

Carmon noted that while the city’s protections are more extensive than any offered by the state and federal governments, there’s nothing in the law that prevents the city from taking a more expansive approach.

In other action, the council approved incentives amounting to $265,000 for Nature’s Value, a company that has announced plans to occupy a 426,000-square-foot property in Whitaker Park. The company plans 268 positions, some new and some transferred from New York and Lexington.

336-727-7369

@wyoungWSJ

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