Boca Raton Blows Off Controversy Over LGBT Workplace Protections
It started with a $235,000 hazardous waste contract between the Palm Beach County Commission and the Boca Raton City Council, and ended in a fight over the LGBT rights in Boca.
This issue arose when the Palm Beach County Commission found out about the city’s lack of protection for LGBT employees; the county has a policy of not doing business with entities that don’t adhere to its own anti-discrimination policy. The county’s policy includes sexual orientation and gender identity protection.
“When the Hazmat agreement came forward, it was a new opportunity to discuss how that provision works and what the implications are,” city attorney Diane Frieser said during the city council meeting where they approved the contract with a clause including protection for people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression — for this contract.
However there’s a catch. Because the city decided to opt out of the county’s anti-discrimination policy in January 2011 the county does not have jurisdiction to enforce their anti-discrimination policy on city employees. So even though the language in the contract stipulates that they won’t discriminate against an LGBT employee, if they do, that employee has no legal recourse. The county, however, would be able to terminate the contract.
“The county’s ordinance applies in the county, and the city’s applies in the city,” Frieser said. “No rights have been taken away, they are the same rights.”
On Tuesday Oct. 23, minutes after the last council meeting ended, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Whelchel declined to answer questions about the city excluding protections for the rights of LGBT employees.
“We’ve complied with state and federal law,” Whelchel said. Then she pointed at Frieser, and walked away. “You really need to talk to her.”
Then Frieser declined to answer questions as well.
“I’ve been here 13 years, I don’t talk to the press,” Frieser said.
Without discrimination protection for sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBT public employees remain open to discrimination outside of this contract.
“I fully support the county’s non-discrimination policy and do not believe there should be any exceptions,” Palm Beach County Commissioners Paulette Burdick told SFGN.
Boca Vice Mayor Susan Haynie addressed the recent articles about the council at their last meeting.
“These are certainly unfounded, we are not discriminatory,” Haynie said.
Rand Hoch, president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council disagrees.
“It’s one small step in the right direction,” Hoch said. “The real problem is it doesn’t really change anything.”
The city further antagonized the gay community when three weeks ago, Boca assistant city manager Mike Woika compared protecting LGBT employee rights to protecting pet lovers.
Hoch has already called the Boca city council bigots, but he has a new name for them now.
“There’s a name for people who do things for money,” Hoch said.
“That’s apparently what the Boca Raton city council are … The Palm Beach Human Rights Council is not going to let up on the city of Boca Raton because they are the only public employer in the county to retain the right to discriminate against LGBT employees and that is unacceptable.”