The Lee County Board of County Commissioners Repeals Lee County’s Equal Opportunity Ordinance

At its September 25, 2012 meeting, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (“BOCC”) repealed Lee County’s ordinance that provided for equal opportunity in employment (“Ordinance”) to employees who worked for employers with 6 or more employees, but with 14 or fewer employees.  The Ordinance extended similar protections from unlawful discrimination to employees who otherwise would not enjoy such protections as both federal and state antidiscrimination laws which only apply when an employee works for an employer with 15 or more employees. As of September 25, 2012, the Lee County Office of Equal Opportunity (“Agency”) no longer has jurisdiction to investigate complaints of unlawful discrimination under the repealed Ordinance, nor does it have any authority to investigate claims of unlawful discrimination that have been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) which is the federal agency charged with enforcing federal antidiscrimination laws.  Prior to the repeal of the Ordinance, the Agency would investigate claims that were filed with the EEOC pursuant to an agreement with the EEOC.  No longer will the Agency investigate any such claims filed with the EEOC.

What does the repeal of the Ordinance mean to employees who work for employers with 14 or fewer employees, but  more than 6 employees?  Unfortunately, it means that an employee who is unlawfully discriminated against based upon her race, sex, disability, religion, or national origin, for example, will no longer have a legal right to file a charge of discrimination with the Agency, the EEOC or with the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

What does the repeal of the Ordinance mean to employers with 14 or fewer employees, but more than 6 employees?  This employer group is no longer obligated under the law to ensure that the employer’s work environment is free from unlawful harassment based upon race, sex, disability, religion or national origin, for example.  However, employers are well advised to continue to enforce policies prohibiting unlawful harassment as employees may be able to bring common law claims against their employer even though they can no longer file a claim with the local agency or enjoy protections against unlawful discrimination under the Ordinance.  Employers that have discrimination claims pending against them that were filed with the Agency or that were being investigated by the Agency, should contact the Agency to find out whether any pending discrimination claim will be transferred to the EEOC for final resolution.

For additional information regarding compliance with federal and state anti-discrimination laws, contact Christina Harris Schwinn at chs@paveselaw.com.