West Palm Beach Passes Employee Benefits Ordinance – First in Palm Beach County

On Monday evening, August 18 the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC) won another victory on the path to civil equality for LGBT residents.

At the urging of the Council and its founder and president, Rand Hoch, the West Palm Beach City Commissioners voted unanimously to establish an equal benefits ordinance (EBO) requiring certain categories of contractors to provide equal benefits to the partners of unmarried employees.

“West Palm Beach has always been a leader in civil equality and family protections,” said Hoch after the vote. “Mayor [Jeri] Muoio has been one of our staunchest allies when it comes to family protection.”

“In fact,” Hoch continued, “Jeri came to us on this issue. We had originally requested consideration for the program in 2007 but with all the downtown construction turmoil at that time, we decided to table the request until the climate was more favorable. Jeri decided that now is the time and obviously she was right.”

“We were thrilled with a unanimous vote,” Hoch said. “At the first vote two weeks ago, two of the commissioners voted against the proposal because they had questions that were answered before the vote last night.”

Muoio was quoted in a press release from the PBCHRC saying, “Requiring contractors to provide to employees with same-sex spouses and domestic partners benefits equal to those provided to employees whose marriages are recognized by the state of Florida will require contractors to maintain a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining the highest quality work force, thereby improving the quality of goods and services that the city receives.”

The CBO affects only contracts of $50,000 and above being performed with five or more employees. Contractors are not required to provide any benefits not already offered to legally recognized married employees.

The city itself has had an EBO in effect for municipal employees for some twenty years. The vote on Monday makes West Palm Beach the first city in Palm Beach County and the seventh in the state to enact such a policy. The six Florida public employers with EBO protections are: Broward County, Hallandale Beach, Key West, Miami Beach, Oakland Park and Wilton Manors.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. The Council promotes equality through education, advocacy, direct action, impact litigation, and community outreach.

In addition to last night’s win, PBCHRC is currently working with the City of Boynton Beach to consider a domestic partnership ordinance. According to Hoch, that project is on hold for another few weeks.

When asked about the work of PBCHRC, Hoch said, “We keep plugging away until our work is no longer needed. We’ll be challenging some locale in Palm Beach County on the day the Supreme Court finally recognizes us as equal citizens.