Houston employers have a new local anti-discrimination ordinance to comply with. In addition to the classes protected by federal and state law, Houston now protects employees from discrimination based on familial status, marital status, gender identity and sexual orientation.
The new ordinance applies to employers with 50 or more employees. Religious entities are not covered.
The ordinance’s familial status protections ban discrimination based on the fact that an employee lives with a person under 18, even if that person is not the minor’s parent.
While the ordinance does not define discrimination based on marital status, employers should interpret this broadly to include any discrimination based on whether the individual is married, engaged or single. Whether this applies to same-sex marriages recognized in other states is unclear.
Employees who feel they have been discriminated against have 180 days from the discriminatory act to file a complaint with the city’s inspector general (IG). Should the offense fall under state or federal law, the inspector general will forward the complaint to the Texas Workforce Commission or the EEOC.
For all other complaints, the IG has a year to investigate and may attempt to conciliate disputes. Should that fail, the IG may refer the complaint to the city attorney for prosecution as a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $5,000. Aggrieved employees may not bring civil actions under the ordinance.
Advice: Houston employers should update their, policies and procedures to ensure they comply with the new ordinance. Involve your attorney in the process to ensure all documents are in compliance. Train all managers and supervisors on the new ordinance as well.
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