Josh Van Kampen Reviews Charlotte’s Updated Non-Discrimination Ordinance

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) –  What some are calling a victory for Charlotte’s LGBT community, others are calling a threat to public safety.The Charlotte City Council Monday night passed a non-discrimination ordinance that would allow transgender people to choose bathrooms in private businesses that correspond to their gender identity. Now the question is how will the ordinance be enforced, and what does it mean for you?

City attorney Robert Hagemann didn’t want to do an interview Tuesday about the ordinance that becomes law in April. But he did answer city council’s questions in memos which WBTV reviewed.

According to Hagemann, there is no specific enforcement mechanism in the new law, but a violation of an ordinance is enforceable as a misdemeanor. Two other lawyers reviewed the ordinance and shared what it means.

“To me, if there’s any lesson from the Civil Rights era and the federal laws, is that these statutes need to have teeth. And if they don’t have teeth, you’re not going to have broad compliance in the community,” said civil lawyer Josh Van Kampen with Van Kampen Law.

Van Kampen said the newly approved non-discrimination ordinance that now includes sex, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression doesn’t have teeth because if someone experiences discrimination for one of those reasons they can not go to court and file a complaint.

“What I’m concerned about – as a supporter of LGBT rights – that this is a hollow victory,” said Van Kampen. “The public accommodation statute has a very weak enforcement provision which only allows somebody that has been victimized to make a complaint with what’s called the conciliation division. And the conciliation division has no power to compel a business that’s violated that statute to comply.”

The city attorney wrote in a memo to city council that the city seeks voluntary compliance through the Community Relations Committee or it could be considered a misdemeanor.

Criminal lawyer Brad Smith, with Arnold and Smith, looked at the ordinance from the perspective of a business.

“Ordinance violations are class 3 misdemeanors, so presumably if you are a business, club, YMCA, YWCA and you violate this ordinance then somebody could be arrested for a class 3 misdemeanor for not enforcing it,” said Smith. “So, the question becomes – if you go to a business or a country club or any other sort of business then who do you arrest?”

Smith also asked if the ordinance tells a business how to comply with the law when it comes to questions regarding bathrooms.

“What’s the standard of enforcement? Is there going to be someone standing in front of a locker room at a health club or a gym?” Smith asked. “Does it practically set out standards for enforcement? Does it set out standards about how it’s suppose to be enforced?”

If the updated ordinance goes into effect as scheduled in April, it appears businesses and members of the LGBT community could end up testing the effectiveness of the Community Relations committee who would have to deal with complaints or law violations.

Story by WBTV.