San Antonio council members push to expand non-discrimination ordinance to private businesses

If the proposal advances to a full council vote and passes, it would apply to businesses with 15+ employees


At least six San Antonio city council members say it’s time to expand the city’s non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) to include private businesses.

The NDO was most recently updated in September 2013, when gender identity, sexual orientation, and veteran status were added to the list of protected classes within the existing ordinance.

On Thursday, a group of council members led by Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) submitted a Council Consideration Request to include businesses or private employers with 15 or more employees under the NDO, as well as contract employment. Also signing onto the proposal are Council Members Mario Bravo (D1), Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) and Ana Sandoval (D7).

Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3) also attended Thursday’s news conference, signaling that the proposal would ostensibly have majority support to pass if it makes it to a vote.

“Some have asked ‘Why do we need an expanded ordinance?’” McKee-Rodriguez said at the news conference, held on the steps of City Hall. “And the answer is simple. People are still experiencing discrimination.”

The NDO currently protects people from discrimination in the areas of city employment, city contracts and subcontracts, appointments to Boards and Commissions, housing, and public accommodation.

Within those areas, people are protected from discrimination on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, disability, familial status, national origin, and age.

However, the city’s website notes that the NDO’s employment protections apply to businesses that have contracts, or are seeking contracts, with the city, but it does not apply to other private businesses or incidents that happen outside of the city limits.

McKee-Rodriguez wants to cover private businesses with 15 or more employees under the NDO as well as contract employment. He writes in his CCR that the expansion should outline penalties for private business violations “to include limitations on access to city contracts and public funding opportunities.”

The councilman also included in his request having staff look into improving the complaint process, including additional support for complainants - such as legal support, and establishing an awareness campaign about the rights and protections afforded under the NDO.

In the past 8 years, more than 100 complaints have been lodged under the ordinance, according to figures presented at the news conference. However, McKee-Rodriguez said “it is a known fact that instances of discrimination go under-reported because if people don’t feel they’ll receive support, they are left with few options.”

A log of NDO complaint data provided at Thursday's news conference shows 108 total complaints up to June this year. However, McKee-Rodriguez and other council members say discrimination goes under-reported nationwide.

People who feel they have been discriminated against, in violation of the NDO, can currently submit a complaint by mail or online.

McKee-Rodriguez, the first openly gay man to serve on the city council, had included the expansion of the NDO as a campaign issue.

A CCR is how council members officially request the full city council consider an issue. It would first be taken up by the governance committee, which is chaired by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, though it’s unclear when that could happen.

“At this point, I believe it’s in the it’s in the mayor’s court,” McKee-Rodriguez told reporters after the news conference.

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About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.