Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Knoxville City Attorney Ok’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance; Opinion Instructive for Memphis Non-Discrimination Ordinance

From the desk of Councilman Lee Harris:


"There is nothing in [the Knoxville] Charter
which we find to be a definitive and
exclusive list of discriminatory practices."
- Deputy Law Director Ronald E. Mills 
Other Tennessee cities have begun to voice opinions regarding Non-Discrimination. Specifically, in response to inquiry from elected officials in Memphis, the Knoxville City Attorney has opined that their city’s non-discrimination ordinance does not conflict with their Charter. According to the attorney’s opinion, “revisions to various sections of the Knoxville City Code regarding discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation and other factors…do not in any way violate the Knoxville City Charter”. The opinion goes on to say that “there is nothing in [the Knoxville] Charter which we find to be a definitive and exclusive list of discriminatory practices.” A copy of the Knoxville Opinion is attached to this release.

Said County Commissioner Steve Mulroy: “I thought it prudent to check with another big Tennessee city and see how they were able to do it.  Their opinion is instructive.  Their charter and ordinance are virtually identical.  Indeed, the argument that the City Council has authority under the charter is even stronger in Memphis."  Said Councilman Lee Harris: “Knoxville, which is hardly a redoubt of the liberal fringe, is way out in front of Memphis. This city has some serious catching up to do. The Knoxville opinion reminds us that there is nothing serious standing in our way. It’s hard to move city government.  But, other cities have done it and, with any luck, this opinion helps resolve that is no serious reason why we can’t.” Said Jonathan Cole, a leader of the Tennessee Equality Project: “Given the willingness of sister cities to go out a limb and get involved, I’m increasingly confident that nothing can stop us. I am increasingly confident that there are no barriers to adding non-merit factors to the City of Memphis non-discrimination ordinance.”

Councilman Lee Harris: "The Knoxville opinion reminds us
that there is nothing serious standing in our way."
For background, on Tuesday, September 18, Memphis City Councilmen Lee Harris and Shea Flinn sponsored a non-discrimination ordinance that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Discussion ensued over whether the ordinance was permissible under the City of Memphis Charter. Final approval of the ordinance was delayed until Oct. 16. The ordinance, if approved on Oct. 16, provides as follows: “There shall be no discrimination in city employment of personnel because of religion, race, sex, creed, political affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation or other non-merit factors, nor shall there by any discrimination in the promotion or demotion of city employees because of religion, race, sex, creed, political affiliation, national origin, ethnicity, age, disability or other non-merit factors.” A copy of the Non-Discrimination Ordinance is attached. The Knoxville City Charter provides: “No elected official administrator, director, or employee of Knox County shall discriminate against any person in employment or provision of services based upon race, sex, religion, age or nationality without due process of law.” The Memphis City Charter provides: “[T]here shall be no discrimination in the city employment of personnel because of religion, race, sex, creed, political affiliation, or other non-merit factors, nor shall be there any discrimination in the promotion or demotion of city employees because of religion, race, sex creed, political affiliation, or other non-merit factors.” A copy of the relevant portions of the Knoxville Ordinance is attached to this release.

Councilman Lee Harris can be reached at 901-210-4429. Commissioner Steve Mulroy can be reached at 901-603-8779. TEP representative Jonathan Cole can be reached at 901-301-3306.

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