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West Virginia city adds discrimination protections

State laws vary regarding what are considered protected classes when it comes to workplace, housing and other types of discrimination. Sometimes, individual cities and municipalities implement laws to protect classes that state law doesn't. That was the case last month in Beckley.

The city's Common Council approved and enacted an amendment that adds sexual orientation as well as gender identity to the list of classes protected from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes under federal or West Virginia state laws. However, other municipalities in the state have enacted ordinances that include them.

The Beckley ordinance was introduced by the city attorney. He consulted with the city's Human Rights Commission (HRC) in drafting it.

Even though religious non-profit organizations and churches are exempted from the ordinance (along with private clubs), critics have objected to it on religious grounds. The head of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia said, "The ordinance is specifically targeting….evangelical Christians or Orthodox Jews, who hold to a traditional view of marriage and to a scientific view of biology."

However, the attorney representing the HRC argued, "All this ordinance does is it allows people to stay in their homes. It allows them to stay in their employment." He noted that federal and state laws don't do enough. He explained that "as you go down the ladder from federal protections to state protections to community protections, you're able to protect people more on the lower level….We're allowed -- and we're expected -- to afford more protections to people (at the local level)."

If you believe that you've been discriminated against by your employer because of your sexual orientation or your gender identity (including your appearance, dress and expression of your gender), it's important to know the local laws that your employer is required to abide by. An experienced attorney can provide you with more information and guidance.

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