On February 26, 2013, by a vote of 5 to 3, the Phoenix City Council voted to ban discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability.  Prior to the vote, the City of Phoenix Human Relations Ordinance (the “Ordinance”) only prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, genetic information, or marital status.  The amendment expanded the coverage of the Ordinance to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; gender identity or expression, meaning “an individual’s self-identification as male, female, or something in between;” and disability.  The Ordinance also prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, housing, City Construction Contracts, and City Supplier and Lessee Contracts.  The amendment bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability with respect to these provisions as well.

Employers with at least one employee fall within the scope of the Ordinance.  However, the law will continue to exempt religious organizations, small private landlords, senior housing, and private membership clubs.  For example, the prohibitions concerning sexual orientation shall not apply to bona fide religious organizations, and will not prevent any religious or denominational institution or organization from “taking any action with respect to matters of employment which is calculated by the organization to promote the religious principles for which it is established or maintained.”

Individuals who believe that they have been discriminated against in violation of the Ordinance may file charges with the City’s Equal Opportunity Department.  If the Department finds reasonable cause to believe a violation has occurred and the parties are unable to reach a conciliation agreement, the Department may refer the case to the City Attorney for criminal prosecution. A violation of the Ordinance is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $2,500, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or probation not to exceed three years, or any combination of fine and imprisonment plus probation.  This is the sole remedy for a violation of the Ordinance; no private cause of action exists for a violation of the Ordinance.

Employers with any employees located in the City of Phoenix are advised to review, and if necessary, update their policies to ensure that they prohibit discrimination on all protected bases, including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.