Memphis TN, August 24, 2010: At the request of the Tennessee Equality Project Councilwoman Janis Fullilove withdrew the Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance that would provide inclusive workplace protections for City of Memphis employees based on religion, race, national origin, ethnicity, age, sex, political affiliation, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. The withdrawal is designed to save Memphis City Government and the larger community from becoming a national disgrace in the movement to create an inclusive community that welcomes people from diverse backgrounds.
On the first of three readings of the Employment Non-Discrimination Ordinance (ENDO) on Aug. 10, the Mayor of Memphis and the Memphis City Council made it clear that proposed legislation would not receive a fair hearing. City Attorney Herman Morris announced that Mayor AC Wharton reversed his position supporting LGBT-inclusive workplace protections. Mayor Wharton pledged his support for LGBT-inclusive workplace protections during his campaign and again when working with the Tennessee Equality Project through the City Attorney’s office to write the proposed ordinance.
Also on August 10, the Memphis City Council displayed an unexpected bias against the proposed legislation that is rarely demonstrated on other matters brought before the Council.
City ordinances on first and second reading are routinely bundled into a consent agenda that appears at the end of the regular agenda during City Council meetings. The Council reviews each item in the consent agenda and then votes to approve or disapprove all of the items in bulk. The Council waits for the third reading to debate ordinances and opens the floor for public comment from citizens for input.
But that didn't happen at the first reading. Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware objected to the inclusion of the ENDO and threatened to vote against the entire consent agenda if it was not voted on separately.
After the ENDO was knocked out of the consent agenda, Councilman Bill Morrison introduced a substitute ordinance that gutted the inclusive ENDO. His substitute ordinance contained no provisions protecting employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. His substitute proposed protections based on non-merit factors that are already explicitly defined in current municipal, state, and federal law.
Neither the Council nor the public was given an opportunity to review the substitute ordinance. Morrison acted in secret and broke a campaign pledge he made when he ran for office to support LGBT-inclusive workplace protections.
Some Council members and critics claim there is no bias or discrimination in City Government against LGBT people. But the first reading of the ENDO demonstrates that anti-LGBT bias starts at the top. The LGBT community and City employees were not given the respect and consideration by the City Council normally afforded to others in our community. These preemptive measures were deployed to silence public debate and prevent a fair hearing of the legislation.
Since LGBT citizens and City employees were treated like second-class citizens by the Memphis Mayor and City Council, TEP does not believe that Memphis City Government is serious about making Memphis a real City of Choice for all job seekers, entrepreneurs and business leaders. Memphis will be considered a City of Exclusion as long as its citizens are treated with disrespect and fear. TEP looks forward to returning to the Mayor and the City Council with legislation protecting all employees from unfair discrimination when a fair hearing is possible.
The Tennessee Equality Project wishes to thank Councilwoman Janis Fullilove for her courage in sponsoring the legislation and our allies on the Council who support equality. Fullilove endured death threats and an LGBT-related hate crime as a straight ally. We deeply appreciate her commitment to equality in the workplace.
Contact: Jonathan Cole
Tennessee Equality Project