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Houston Equal Rights Ordinance to take effect

by Michael P. Maslanka

Houston employers need to be ready for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which will take effect June 27. The new law adds to the protected classes already covered under federal and state law. Here’s a look at the major aspects of the law.

Covered employers. During the first year, companies with 50 or more employees will be covered. On the first anniversary of the ordinance’s effective date, that number drops to 25. On the second anniversary, it drops to 15.

“Employer” is defined as a person who has a certain number of employees and that person’s agent. It appears that “agent” encompasses managers and supervisors.

Protected classes. HERO protects employees from discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, and pregnancy. Sexual orientation protection extends to both real and perceived sexual orientation.

Complaint procedure. The ordinance states that complaints that are filed with the city and are within the bailiwick of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) will be referred to those agencies, and the city will terminate its investigation.

Since sexual orientation and gender identity claims aren’t covered by federal or state law, those claims will be investigated. Also, familial status claims and marital status claims are not investigated by the EEOC or the TWC, so they will fall within the bailiwick of HERO.

Houston employers should train their managers and hiring staff on HERO’s requirements. Also, employers should revise their handbooks to include the newly protected characteristics.

For more information on HERO, see the June issue of Texas Employment Law Letter.

Michael P. Maslanka is a partner with Constangy Brooks & Smith, LLP in Dallas. He can be reached at mmaslanka@constangy.com.