Ross considering law prohibiting workplace, housing and other forms of discrimination

September 19, 2018

Ross Township commissioners are considering a law that would make it a illegal for people to be discriminated against in the workplace, when renting or buying a home and when they try to make purchases or obtain services.

The measure outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, family status and age and other differences.

Commission President Steve Korbel, who crafted the measure based on Mt. Lebanon’s anti-discrimination ordinance, said it is not being done in response to any acts of discrimination that have occurred.

Rather, it is an effort to establish a legal baseline for how people should be treated.

“We want folks to know that Ross is open and welcoming to all kinds of people,” Korbel said. “As it stands now, protections for things such as sexual orientation or gender identity are not fully protected under state and federal law even though there is a groundswell of support for these protections.”

The commissioner also said measures to protect people from discrimination can help the township compete when it comes to economic development.

“Many companies expect these types of protections for their employees,” Korbel said. “So this is a way to tell the world that we are open and welcoming to businesses and that this is a place where peoples’ rights are protected.”

Korbel said prohibiting people from discriminating against others based on sexual orientation or gender identity should be viewed as the same as guarding a person’s rights based on race, religion or other differentiation.

To enforce the law, Korbel has proposed creating a volunteer Equal Opportunity Board consisting of five Ross residents.

The board will have the power to issue a cease-and-desist order and a fine of up to $600. The victim also will have the ability to file a lawsuit seeking additional compensation from the perpetrator.

In cases involving housing discrimination, violators could be fined under the federal Fair Housing Act, which calls for a fine of $10,000 for the first offense, $25,000 for a second offense and $50,000 for subsequent offenses.

If the Equal Opportunity Board rules against the person who files a complaint, they will be able to appeal the decision in state court. If the courts determine that the complaint was filed “in bad faith” they may be required to pay court costs and other fees.

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