Human Rights Ordinance: Grand Rapids, MI

February 18th, 2020 | Angela Preston, Senior Vice President and Counsel, Corporate Ethics and Compliance

Grand Rapids, Human Rights Ordinance

The City Commission of Grand Rapids, MI recently passed and enacted a Human Rights Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), amending Title IX of the Code of the City of Grand Rapids by adding Chapter 175, titled “Human Rights.” The Ordinance, intended to supplement state and federal law, codifies civil rights protections and establishes anti-discriminatory practices in housing and employment.

The Ordinance declares that it is “contrary to public policy” to discriminate based on protected classes. The definition of protected classes is expanded to include color, race, religion/creed, sex, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, national origin, genotype, age, marital status, medical condition, disability, height, weight, and source of lawful income. The Ordinance prohibits enforcement, policies, requirements, qualifications, factors, or practices which may create unequal treatment for protected classes in housing, employment, public accommodations, or public services. The Ordinance places limits and requirements on the consideration of conviction history for housing providers and employers — the latter applying to any person who employs one or more persons. Defined as “the history of all criminal convictions of an individual in any jurisdiction, including time served in prison, jail, juvenile detention, probation, rehabilitation or diversionary programs, or placement on a sex offender registry,” conviction records in housing and employment considerations are governed by the Ordinance in the following ways:

  • Histories of criminal convictions may be considered in decisions, although arrests not resulting conviction may not be considered
  • Outright bans on prospective tenants or employees with criminal backgrounds are prohibited
  • Landlords and employers must carefully consider the nature and severity of the crime, the age of the individual at the time of the crime, whether there have been repeat offenses, whether the individual maintained a good tenant or employment history before or after the conviction, evidence of rehabilitation efforts, and whether the crime for which the individual was convicted may pose a demonstrable risk to the health, safety, or welfare of other residents/employees or persons or to property, on a case-by-case basis

Note that there are no exceptions to the above distinguished in the Ordinance, and that these requirements similarly apply to city contractors.

The Ordinance further establishes the creation, governance, and duties of a 13-member Community Relations Commission (CRC) to support, interpret, enforce, and promote the principles and requirements it contains. The CRC will accept complaints regarding discrimination, which they will submit to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for investigation. Violations will be prosecuted by the City Attorney’s Office, which may levy fines for civil infractions of $500 per day that a violation occurs, in addition to damages and attorney fees. The Ordinance clarifies that individuals have a private right of action, in addition to any actions taken by the City Attorney’s Office for violations.

Grand Rapids employers and city contractors should consult with their legal counsel regarding their current practices for evaluating applicants’ and employees’ criminal histories. Clients can contact their Sterling account representative with questions regarding desired modifications to their services in light of the new compliance obligations.

The full text of the Grand Rapids Human Rights Ordinance can be found here.

Did you miss our January compliance update on the Federal Fair Chance Act? Click here to read federal insights from our subject matter experts.

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