Merriam approves nondiscrimination ordinance with legal protections for LGBTQ residents, employees

Members of the public, including Merriam residents and IKEA employees, applauded the Merriam council’s unanimous approval of a nondiscrimination ordinance Monday night.

The Merriam council last night unanimously approved a nondiscrimination ordinance with legal protections for LGBTQ residents and employees.

After the vote, several members of the audience broke into applause. Merriam joins three other northeast Johnson County cities that have nondiscrimination ordinances: Roeland Park, Prairie Village and Mission.

Merriam councilmember Al Frisby introduced the nondiscrimination ordinance and was the first to vote his approval Monday night.

Councilmember Al Frisby, who introduced the ordinance a few months ago, said he was proud to pass the ordinance in the city.

“I’m very proud to be first to offer this; I vote yes,” Frisby said.

Before the vote, he asked how the ordinance would affect an employee’s ability to be rehired after being terminated on the now-protected basis of LGBTQ status.

City attorney Nicole Proulx Aiken said a hearing officer overseeing a civil dispute under the ordinance would only be able to award actual damages of back pay or a $1,000 penalty, but it doesn’t include reinstatement of a person’s job.

Frisby also wanted a court-appointed attorney for a complainant who could not afford one. Aiken said she would not feel comfortable asking that of the council because the city is not a court.

IKEA employees, including the store manager, came to share their support of the ordinance.

Merriam resident Billy Crook also shared his continued support, but he had concerns with some parts of the ordinance that would allow exemptions for religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of faith. He was also concerned that the ordinance would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals on the basis of a “valid business necessity.”

The ordinance will go into effect Tuesday, Jan. 22.