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Guest Comment: County wholly committed to ‘One organization, one community’

July 12, 2017
By Roger Desjarlais , Pine Island Eagle

Lee County government does not tolerate workplace discrimination for any of its 2,500-plus employees at any of its sites.

The Lee Board of County Commis-sioners on June 20 voted unanimously to approve the updated Lee County Policy and Procedure Manual, the employee handbook that lays out expectations for how employees should conduct themselves and their work within our organization.

This manual is the framework to our philosophy of One Organization, One Community. We are looking at how we treat our fellow employees and how we treat residents and visitors. Our ultimate goal is to be the employer of choice and be good stewards of our at-work community.

Some advocates who followed the news of this update have expressed disappointment in the county for not specifically including the term "LGBTQ" in the updated document. That - and other topics - were the subject of lengthy discussions among many of us here at Lee County, including our leadership team as well as rank-and-file employees. It is what prompted County Attorney Richard Wesch and me to co-author a letter that will be included in the personnel manual. It includes this paragraph:

"Here at Lee County government, our workforce represents the diversity of our community, and we embrace the multiple views, lifestyles and backgrounds of our employees. As illegal discrimination can stifle the contributions of our diverse workforce, it will not be tolerated in any form whatsoever. Nor should we, nor shall we tolerate those around us who might seek to illegally discriminate against our fellow employees."

The way we are codifying that in the language is to be over-inclusive. Rather than specifically call out words, phrases and terms that may be changed, modified or amended over time, we have set the bar as high as legally permissible. By that, we mean we are prohibiting discrimination based on any of the protected statuses afforded by law.

Some advocates have argued that there is not this type of protection in federal law. Respectfully, we disagree. In fact, we had outside counsel research this very topic. There is the case of Glenn vs. Brumby, founded 663 F.3d 1312 (11th Cir. 2011) Federal Circuit opinion. This county sits in the 11th Circuit. There-fore, this case is controlling upon Lee County.

The case stands with a very clear proposition that a government agent violates the protection-clause prohibition of sex-based discrimination when he or she fires a transgender or trans-sexual employee because of his or her gender or non-conformity.

The federal opinion defines harassment: Verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct that shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of his or her race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability or any other status protected by law. The key is "status or any other protected status by law." That is a direct reference to the federal protections provided in the cited case.

County Attorney Wesch stated the following at the June 20 meeting just prior to Board approval: "Commission-ers, with all due respect, it's our hope that the language we're suggesting to you this morning become the standard for lawyers both public and private not only in Lee County, but statewide and perhaps nationally, because the language we're suggesting to you is more specific, more inclusive, more global, than that which was suggested to you by the speakers this morning. We're suggesting to you language that makes it abundantly clear that harassment/discrimination based on a protected class will not be tolerated in Lee County, Florida, nor by the Board of County Commissioners on behalf of its employees."

Our cultural differences are what make Lee County government's workplace distinctive and productive. I commend the Board of County Commissioners for their recent vote. Our newly updated Policy and Procedure Manual is a living document for a robust and diverse organization. Lee County government is an organization in which employees can feel their contributions are valued, they are compensated well in the marketplace and they are treated fairly and equitably.

- Roger Desjarlais is Lee County Manager

 
 

 

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