Sunday, December 18, 2005

Star Says Most Businesses See HRO As A Plus


The Indianapolis Star’s Brendan O’Shaughnessy reports today that most businesses see passage of Proposal 622, the Human Rights Ordinance, as a plus for Indianapolis. O’Shaughnessy’s article also points out some serious weaknesses in the proposed ordinance after Advance Indiana took him to task last week for overstating the penalty provisions of the proposed law.

“Many business leaders in Indianapolis said they welcome the City-County Council's proposal to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation because it signals tolerance and that will help recruit new employees,” O’Shaughnessy wrote. He notes that most major companies doing business in Indianapolis have already adopted similar employment policies barring such discrimination, and that the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce supports the HRO.

Not all of the chamber’s members support it though. O’Shaughnessy cites BitWise Solutions’ CEO Ron Brumbarger, a chamber board member, as one such opponent. "I'm not trying to be discriminatory, but where does this stop?" Brumbarger asked. Brumbarger told O’Shaughnessy that “his viewpoint may not be politically correct, but some entrepreneurs just want government to stay out of the way.”

His views probably come as a shock to many people in Indianapolis’ technology community. Brumbarger has been at the forefront of working to make Indianapolis a more attractive place for high tech companies to locate. High tech companies have been viewed as leading the way in diversity to create a favorable environment for worker creativity. His backward-thinking on this issue may cause the high tech community to reconsider whether it wants him out front speaking on behalf of its businesses.

O’Shaughnessy’s article, importantly, corrects a misrepresentation in an earlier article he wrote, which suggested that employers could face tough penalties if they discriminated against gay employees, such as being taken to court and having to pay the employee’s attorney’s fees. Advance Indiana took O’Shaughnessy to task for overstating the penalty provisions of the HRO. He initially defended the story in an e-mail to Advance Indiana editor Gary R. Welsh. He said, “I stand by the story.” He indicated that he had been told by Aaron Haith, the council’s attorney, that the ordinance covered all attorney’s fees and court costs.

Today’s article backtracked considerably. He writes: “Some lawyers think the anti-discrimination proposal is too weak because penalties for discriminating do not specifically include significant fines or the right to go to court.” 'The ordinance does not provide any meaningful protections for anyone but the employer,' said Kevin Betz, a lawyer who specializes in civil rights cases. The proposal would allow people to complain only to the city's Equal Opportunity Advisory Board, he said, and would not let them collect attorney's costs. 'It is essentially a feel-good statement of policy with no teeth,' Betz said."

Kevin Betz touched on the main points we raised last week. Our concern was that the story on the pending ordinance created an undue misapprehension on the part of employers as to its true effect by overstating its penalty provisions.

The story also mentions that one business owner expressed his concern about the “potential of false discrimination claims.” O”Shaughnessy did not mention that the HRO, as proposed, would make it a crime to file a false complaint of discrimination with the city. That’s a pretty tough deterrent that has not been included in the law before.

In several ways, as we previously reported, the HRO actually makes the city’s civil rights law more pro-business than it has been in the past. Most notably, employees were able to ask a reviewing court to review a decision of the Equal Opportunity Advisory Board in the past. As proposed, only employers can challenge an order of the Board. The Board, however, can take a business to court to enforce an order it has imposed on it in response to an employee’s complaint.

Advance Indiana tips its hat to O’Shaughnessy for clarifying the misconceptions with which his earlier article left the Star’s readers.

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