A proposed ordinance under debate in Carlisle Borough would make it public policy to foster equality and equal opportunity with a volunteer human relations commission, a complaint procedure and a mediation process.

Up for vote on Dec. 8, the Borough of Carlisle Human Relations Ordinance would make it unlawful for anyone to engage in discrimination related to employment, housing and commercial property or any public accommodation where it is not currently prohibited by other state or federal laws.

Pennsylvania's Human Relations Act — which the ordinance largely mirrors — currently provides these protections, including protection from discrimination at public accommodations, to all of these classes of people except sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

Carlisle's proposed ordinance would expand protection to those three groups.

The ordinance defines “public accommodation” as the ability of an individual to access food, beverages, lodging, resort or amusement “which is open to, accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public.” It does not apply to accommodations that are, by nature, “distinctly private."

The ordinance would outlaw “prohibited acts” of discrimination based on race, color, religious creed, ancestry, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, handicap or the use of a guide or support animal because of blindness, deafness or handicap.

Such acts would include retaliation against a person who opposes discrimination or a person who has made a charge, testified or assisted in the investigation of alleged discrimination. It would also include acts that aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce others into committing discrimination.

There is only one exception to the rules set forth in the ordinance. “Notwithstanding any other provision of this ordinance, it shall not be an unlawful practice for a religious corporation or association to commit any of the acts,” the ordinance reads.

If a person feels they have been discriminated against in violation of the ordinance, the commission can attempt to mediate the claim and reach an amicable resolution. Council member Sean Shultz, who is also an attorney, said the commission largely is set up to divert cases away from the courts through alternative dispute resolution.

If an amicable agreement can not be reached, the aggrieved person can file a claim in the Court of Common Pleas.

Individuals who feel they have been discriminated against on a basis aside from sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression can file a claim based on the state law or the local ordinance. Claims for discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression would be brought based on the new ordinance, Shultz said.

"The Court of Common Pleas can be the provided administrator for local ordinances," Shultz said.

The court can impose penalties up to $50,000 if it finds the ordinance has been violated. The penalties are based on the state Human Relations Act and change as the state law changes.

The ordinance was advanced Nov. 10 from the Employee Relations and Citizen Participation Committee to Borough Council. Council voted 5-2 to direct borough solicitor Keith Brenneman to review, approve and advertise the anti-discrimination ordinance, which would provide protections to those in the LGBTQ community and create a four-person Human Relations Committee.

Councilors Perry Heath and Connie Bires voted against the action, as well as against the subsequent motion, which tabled a resolution Heath proposed after the ordinance was initially introduced. His resolution, like the ordinance, was advanced out of the ERCP commission earlier that night.

By tabling the resolution, it will be discussed along with the anti-discrimination ordinance during council’s Dec. 8 meeting, where action on one or both items could potentially take place.

The commission

If the ordinance is adopted on Dec. 8, council would have the authority to appoint a four-member commission of borough residents or business owners to staggered terms of three years each. That way the terms of different members would expire each year.

By adopting the ordinance, council is saying the commission would be supported by volunteer efforts and unpaid staff with an operating budget as close to zero cost as possible, according to the wording. If council decides to allocate funds in the future, the ordinance states the commission can only exceed budget with council approval.

The four commission members would serve as volunteers and would be required to attend training sessions on not only the function of the commission under the borough ordinance, but on the operation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the terms, conditions and provisions of the state Human Relations Act.

Every year, the commission would pick a member to serve as the chairperson responsible for directing the training and for coordinating the group’s activities, meetings and operations.

This chairperson would designate one member to receive a complaint and conduct an intake meeting with the party making the complaint. This designated member would not be allowed to participate in any mediation or vote on the disposition of any complaint for which he or she handled the intake.

The complaint procedure

The ordinance would also establish a procedure for individuals to file complaints and for the commission to process what is submitted. This procedure would start with any person aggrieved by any practice made unlawful under the ordinance.

The commission would be allowed to develop and distribute a standard form individuals could use to prepare and submit a complaint. A complaint filed not using the form would still be acceptable so long as the alleged facts are clearly stated. The commission would have the option of providing a consultation service with a volunteer trained to assist individuals in discerning the facts relevant to their complaint.

The aggrieved person would have 180 days from the date of the last act giving rise to the complaint to submit the paper work either in person at the borough manager’s office or by mail addressed to the borough manager or the commission member designated to handle intake.

Each complaint must include the name, phone number, mailing address and email address of both the aggrieved person and the parties they allege committed an act of discrimination. The complaint must also include a concise statement of the facts including the date, time and location of the alleged incident; a list of the people involved and a description of the act or acts.

Any complaint submitted to the borough manager must be forwarded to the commission chairperson within 10 days. The manager must mark each complaint with the date on which it was received.

Within 30 days of receiving a complaint, the commission must send a copy of the document to the person or persons charged with a prohibited act under the ordinance. The commission must also send a notice to the person making the complaint to verify that the paper work had been received and processed.

If the complaint alleges discrimination, as defined under state or federal law, the notice would also include information on how the person could file a complaint with the state Human Relations Commission, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, whichever one applies.

Both parties will receive written notification of their option to proceed to voluntary mediation so they could resolve whatever gave rise to the complaint. The person or persons charged with discrimination would have 30 days upon receiving the complaint to file an answer with either the borough manager or the designated commission member.

Mediation process 

Within 30 days of receiving that answer, the commission must refer the matter to a recognized alternative dispute-resolution service. The parties would be responsible for any costs associated with the mediation.

The ordinance states dispute-resolution could take the form of a service offered through Cumberland County, the county bar association or any professional mediation service provider. The matter could also be referred to a licensed member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association who would be willing to offer the service to the commission as a volunteer.

The parties involved may jointly select the mediator. If they can’t agree, the commission has the authority to act as the mediator with a minimum of two eligible commission members. The public would not be allowed to attend the private mediation sessions.

The commission would deem the complaint resolved if the mediation results in an amicable resolution. It will then notify the parties that the complaint has been dismissed.

However, the parties would have the right to carry the matter over into the county Court of Common Pleas if the complaint is not resolved through mediation. Any person found in violation of this ordinance may be subject by county court or by any court to penalties spelled out under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

The borough specifically mentions how anti-discrimination protections are extended to include actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Sentinel reporter Joshua Vaughn contributed to this story.

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com 

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