Mission advances nondiscrimination ordinance with legal protections for LGBTQ+ residents and employees

Mission council
Mission councilmembers Sollie Flora and Hillary Parker Thomas said they wanted the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to protect all classes, not just sexual orientation and gender identity.

Mission has advanced a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance with legal protections for LGBTQ+ residents and employees.

The council decided in its committee meeting Wednesday evening to place final adoption of the ordinance on the agenda for its Dec. 19 council meeting, meaning two local NDOs will be considered next week. Prairie Village is expected to vote on final adoption of its proposed NDO on Monday, Dec. 17.

The nondiscrimination ordinance as written would make sexual orientation and gender identity a protected class in Mission, giving legal protections offered to protected classes like race and sex under state and federal law. Only one change was made to the Mission ordinance Monday: to raise the civil penalty fee from $500 to $1,000.

Councilmember Sollie Flora, who proposed the ordinance in October, said she thinks raising the penalty fee would give it “more bite” as a deterrent to discriminatory behavior.

City leaders in Merriam and Prairie Village are also considering a nondiscrimination ordinance.

City administrator Laura Smith pointed out two other proposed changes to the drafted ordinance for the councilmembers to discuss in committee. These were:

  • Reducing the number of employees from four to one that a business must have on staff for the ordinance to be applicable, and
  • Providing some clarity regarding the types of complaints investigated by the city

Discussion over which businesses should be exempt from NDO

Smith said leaving the number of employees at four or more would match Mission’s proposed ordinance with state laws on nondiscrimination for other protected classes.

Flora said there seemed to be no reason for state law to exempt businesses with fewer than four employees.

“There was a lot of comments from council that we wouldn’t want to tolerate any discrimination in our city,” Flora said. “And so it seemed wrong to me to create an arbitrary four-number threshold, given the sentiments of the council.”

Councilmember Nick Schlossmacher said he was concerned with setting a different precedent than what state law requires as to how many employees a business must have for the law to apply.

Ultimately, the council decided to leave the number of employees at four or more.

As to which types of complaints the city would investigate, councilmembers debated whether the ordinance should be re-written to narrow its focus to the two unprotected classes of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is because all of the other classes listed in the ordinance are already protected under state and/or federal law.

The council’s decision on which classes are listed in the nondiscrimination ordinance affects which types of discrimination the city would be able to investigate. Protected classes at the state and/or federal level already have agencies to investigate complaints, namely the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Kansas Human Rights Commission.

Flora and councilmember Hillary Parker Thomas said they favor a uniform policy that protects all classes.

Flora said she thinks listing all protected classes in the ordinance will allow individuals to file any type of discrimination complaint to the city and work through Mission’s “easier” process instead of going through a “time-consuming” and “difficult” process at the state or federal level.

The council did not have consensus on whether the ordinance should list all protected classes or only sexual orientation and gender identity. Councilmembers can propose making this change at the council meeting next week.

Frank Bruce, a Mission resident, wants the council to wait for the state and federal law to protect the classes of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Frank Bruce, a Mission resident, told the council he thinks the city-level ordinance will correct one problem and end up causing more problems. Bruce wants the council to consider waiting until Kansas and/or the federal government adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes.

Mary Gerlt, a Wyandotte County resident, said she thinks the nondiscrimination ordinance is “not the right way to go” because she believes there are better ways to fight discrimination in the private sector, such as boycotting and campaigns.

“I think having ordinances can lead to witch hunts and things like that, false accusations,” Gerlt said.