Recently, two major Northeast Ohio cities expanded the classifications of individuals protected from discrimination in those cities. On November 30, 2009, the Cleveland City Council voted in favor of amending the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, adding "gender identity" as a class of individuals protected from discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and housing. The Akron City Council passed a similar amendment expanding individuals' protection from discrimination to include "sexual orientation" as well as "gender identity" in the employment and housing contexts. Employers with facilities in Cleveland or Akron should be aware of these changes to the local ordinances of these two cities.
The amendment to Cleveland's nondiscrimination ordinance bars discrimination against individuals on the basis of "gender identity or expression," which is defined as "gender-related identity, external presentation of gender identity through appearance, or mannerism or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual's designated sex at birth." Cleveland's nondiscrimination ordinance continues to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, ethnic group or Vietnam-era or disabled veteran status.
The Akron amendment bars discrimination against individuals on the basis of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." The ordinance defines "sexual orientation" as a person's actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality, by orientation or practice. "Gender identity" is defined as the gender a person associates with him- or herself. These two protected classes supplement Akron's existing prohibition against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex or national origin.
The amendment to Cleveland's ordinance took effect on December 3, 2009, and covers all employers, labor organizations, employment agencies, and city contractors. Similarly, the Akron amendment took effect on November 30, 2009, and covers employers, employment agencies, and city contractors.
An older but similar Columbus ordinance prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, family status, or military status in the housing, employment, and public accommodation contexts. The ordinance defines "sexual orientation" as a person's actual or perceived homosexuality, bisexuality, or heterosexuality, by orientation or practice, by and between consenting adults. "Gender identity or expression" is defined as having or being perceived as having gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior, whether or not that identity, appearance, expression or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person's actual or perceived sex. The Columbus City Council added "gender identity or expression" as a protected class on December 15, 2008. The Columbus ordinance has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for over twenty years.
In addition to these local changes, Congress has taken the first steps toward expanding federal nondiscrimination law. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 (ENDA) would prohibit discrimination "because of such individual's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity." ENDA contains the same definition of "gender identity" as the revised Cleveland ordinance. "Sexual orientation" is defined as homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality. ENDA is currently stalled at the committee level, and has yet to be voted upon by either house of Congress. If passed, ENDA would cover both private and government employers.
Employers who are covered by the Cleveland, Akron or Columbus ordinance amendments should immediately revise their nondiscrimination policies to reflect and implement these changes.