City says handbook can’t be changed for LGBTQ protections but not everyone agrees

NEA Pride leader disagrees with assessment by city communications director

“These types of resolutions, ordinances, etc. that protect CITY WORKERS have successfully passed before and AFTER this bill passed in 2015.” – Yesenia Hernandez, NEA Pride

JONESBORO, Ark. – While it may be the goal of some to see an anti-discrimination policy adopted by the City, the communications director told NEA Report that language in the law prohibits it.

But not everyone agrees.

“The Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act prohibits changing the language,” said Bill Campbell, Communications Director for the City of Jonesboro.

14-1-403. Prohibited conduct.
(a) A county, municipality, or other political subdivision
of the state shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance,
resolution, rule, or policy that creates a protected
classification or prohibits discrimination on a
basis not contained in state law.

Yesenia Hernandez, leader of NEA Pride, told NEA Report she had planned to introduce a resolution to amend the City of Jonesboro’s employee handbook on February 18 at the Jonesboro City Council meeting. The resolution would ensure equal employment opportunities to protect gender identity and sexual orientation against discrimination.

NEA Report reached out to her for a comment.

“I find it interesting that the communication director failed to send you the sentence following his citation which clearly states that this does not apply to resolutions that only involve city workers,” Hernandez said

(B) This section does not apply to a rule or policy that pertains only to the employees of a county, municipality, or other political subdivisions.”

“I am also in contact with the ACLU state attorney to send a letter to the mayor to clarify this issue,” Hernandez said.

Photo courtesy Yesenia Hernandez

Additionally, Hernandez said that the mayor has been advised by City Attorney Carol Duncan to update the handbook to prevent claims against the city. The following was obtained by the Jonesboro Sun through FOIA:

“It is my belief that the conservative approach, in order to prevent any possible claims against the City of Jonesboro, would be to go ahead and update the language of our employee handbook to include this language as has been adopted by the DOJ and in the executive order,” Duncan wrote. “As far as the day-to-day operations of the city, I believe this is the policy we are implementing anyway with regard to employees, and is additionally covered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I believe these changes can be implemented along with the other changes we have planned in updating our handbook.”

Hernandez, along with another activist, Ryan Carter, will host a rally from noon until 2 PM on February 15 at the Craighead County Courthouse. The Jonesboro Fair Employment Rally is on Facebook here.

The Human Rights Campaign’s 2019 Municipal Equality Index Scorecard rates Jonesboro (and Craighead County) as a 0 in all categories, attaining a 0/100. This scores the city, county, and state on:

  • Non-discrimination laws
  • The municipality as an employer offering protections/benefits to LGBTQ employees/businesses
  • Municipal services including LGBTQ constituents
  • Law enforcement fair reporting of hate crimes/LGBTQ engagement
  • Leadership by the city to include the LGBTQ community

See the full report card here: MEI-2019-Jonesboro-Arkansas


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