By Joanna Vilos
In mid-May, Laramie’s City Council passed an ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. If you do business within the city of Laramie, you’ll want to update your employment policies to comply with the new law.
Illegal Discrimination Ordinance
By a 7-to-2 vote, the Laramie City Council approved an anti-discrimination ordinance that prohibits discriminatory practices based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The ordinance, passed on May 13, 2015, makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to refuse to hire, discharge, promote or demote, or to discriminate in matters of compensation or the terms, conditions or privileges of employment against a qualified person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Laramie is the first city in Wyoming to enact a law prohibiting discrimination on these grounds.
The ordinance also prohibits retaliation against those who oppose discrimination or who make a complaint or assist in an investigation or proceeding regarding an alleged violation of the ordinance. This includes threats, coercion, discharge, expulsion, blacklisting or any other form of retaliation.
In addition to banning employment discrimination, the ordinance also prohibits discrimination in housing and public accommodation on account of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Any person or entity doing business within the City of Laramie who has one or more employees, and any agent of such person or entity, is covered by this illegal discrimination ordinance. Small employers need to analyze whether they had one or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year to determine if they are subject to the ordinance.
Actual or Perceived Status
Laramie’s ordinance protects not only those who are actually gay, bisexual or transgender, but also those who are perceived to be. Sexual orientation is defined as actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality, while gender identity or expression is defined as an actual or perceived gender-related identity, expression, or behavior, regardless of the individual’s sex at birth. The protection for those who are perceived to be LGBT mirrors federal anti-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals perceived to be of a particular race, religion or national origin or who are regarded as disabled.
Complaints May Be Made to City Manager
Anyone claiming to have been discriminated or retaliated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity may file a complaint with the Laramie City Manager or his/her designee. The complaint must be filed within 90 calendar days after the alleged violation of the ordinance occurred.
After receiving a complaint, the City Manager (or designee) will assign it to an investigator who will conduct an investigation to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe a violation took place. The investigator must promptly provide to the employer a written notice that a complaint has been filed as well as provide a copy of the complaint.
Employers Have 15 Days to Answer Complaint
After receiving the notice and copy of the complaint, the employer has 15 calendar days to file an answer. The answer must be in writing, made under oath or affirmation, and must contain:
- the Respondent’s (employer’s) name, address, telephone number and signature of the Respondent or the Respondent’s attorney, if any; and
- a concise statement of facts in response to the allegations in the complaint, including facts of any defense or exemption.
As part of the investigation, the investigator may request additional information, either via voluntary cooperation or subpoena issued by the City attorney, including records, documents and witness testimony and statements.
If the employer appears to have committed an unlawful employment practice, the investigator must attempt to conciliate/settle the complaint. If the employer voluntarily enters into a conciliation agreement, the complaint will be immediately dismissed. The conciliation agreement must be in writing (in a form approved by the City Attorney) and signed and verified by the employer and the Complainant.
Municipal Court and Penalties
At the completion of the investigation, if the investigator concludes that a violation of the ordinance occurred and no conciliation agreement was reached, the City Attorney will determine whether the case warrants a lawsuit in municipal court. If so, the City Attorney must provide written notification to both the Complainant and the employer that an action to enforce the ordinance will be filed in municipal court. On the other hand, if the City Attorney determines that the facts do not support such a lawsuit, he or she will dismiss the complaint.
The maximum fine for a violation of the ordinance is $750 or a jail sentence of up to six months, or both.
Will the Rest of Wyoming Follow?
The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services reports that it has received about 40 complaints over the past four years from residents alleging they suffered employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation. With Laramie’s enactment of this anti-discrimination protection for LGBT individuals, it will be interesting to see whether other Wyoming municipalities follow suit.
Thus far, the Wyoming legislature has failed to pass an anti-discrimination bill that would offer statewide protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In its 2015 session, the Wyoming Senate passed such a bill, but it was defeated in the House by a vote of 26 in favor and 33 against.
Advocacy groups including Wyoming Equality and the Matthew Shepard Foundation continue to work toward the passage of a statewide law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They also intend to chip away at the issue city-by-city with initiatives in Cheyenne and Lander. We will follow their efforts and report on any new laws that are enacted.
Steps to Ensure Compliance
If you conduct business in Laramie, you should update your employment policies and practices to reflect this new ordinance. First, update your equal employment opportunity statement to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. This may mean revising your employee handbook, job applications, online statements and any other document that references prohibited discrimination and your commitment to providing equal employment opportunities. Second, review whether you need to revise your dress code or grooming standards to remove certain gender-specific distinctions or requirements. Finally, be sure to train your supervisors and managers not to discriminate or retaliate against applicants and employees on these additional grounds.