Toll authority would be 6th agency in Dallas County to amend its policy in recent years; one board member calls proposal ‘absolutely ridiculous’
The North Texas Tollway Authority approved an amendment in a 2-1 vote Thursday, April 5, to add sexual orientation and gender identity to its equal employment opportunity policy.
The amendment was approved after a briefing during a meeting of NTTA’s administration committee, which handles diversity issues. The amendment includes adding the protections to the EEO policy in addition to the employee handbook.
Only three of the five committee members were present, and they spent only minutes deciding after the briefing. Committee member George
“Tex” Quesada strongly supported the amendment and recommended the Board of Directors vote in favor of it. Committee Chairwoman Jane Willard voted yes as well. David Denison called the amendment “absolutely ridiculous” before voting no.
The amendment now moves on for consideration and a vote by the Board of Directors April 18.
The decision to add the terms came from a recent review of the policy in addition to encouragement from Resource Center Dallas and Fairness Fort Worth, which partnered on the issue.
NTTA is now the sixth agency in Dallas County to consider adding gay and/or transgender employment protections in the last few years. The other agencies that have updated their policies are Dallas County, Dallas Independent School District, Dallas County Community College District, DFW International Airport and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
In addition, Tarrant County College District, Fort Worth Independent School District and the city of Fort Worth have added protections.
Although TCCD added sexual orientation before being asked, FFW President Tom Anable said he’s sent letters asking that they add gender identity.
Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for RCD, said he and FFW have been seeking out agencies to discuss the possibility of them updating their policies in an effort to improve equality.
“I think we’re all kind of working toward making an inclusive policies the norm at the local level with some of these governmental agencies,” he said.
NTTA was asked to change its policy because of the their operations in multiple areas of the DFW metroplex, McDonnell said, adding that two other undisclosed agencies are working with RCD and FFW to change their policies.
When an agency is approached, McDonnell said its leaders are informed on the benefits of the update and educated about the growing number of agencies whose polices are becoming inclusive.
“It sets a marker down for the culture that every employee is valued regardless of who they are,” McDonnell said. “It goes to the broader question of equality. If people are valued at work, they can bring their authentic selves to work and they do a better job.”
NTTA is considered a political subdivision of the state of Texas under the Transportation Code. It has tollroads and bridges spanning Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Collin counties including the Dallas North Tollway, George Bush Turnpike, Sam Rayburn Tollway and Chisholm Trail Parkway, which is under construction.
Ken Upton, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said governmental agencies that add LGBT protections are still liable for discrimination complaints, though having the protections makes it a little easier for someone to prove discrimination.
“Generally speaking, if they’re considered a political subdivision, somebody would be liable with or without the policy if they discriminate on that basis [of sexual orientation] without some legitimate governmental basis,” Upton said. “What the policy adds is a public statement that they recognize that it’s an important way to evaluate their employees.”
NTTA spokesman Michael Rey said the EEO policy was recently reviewed after reviewing it last in 2009. This time, he said the NTTA compared its practices to other companies in Austin, Houston and other cities and found that “his was a change the staff felt confident they could bring to the board.”
“I think it’s just kind of a common-sense prioritization of ranking job performance over things that are non-job related,” he said. “And it kind of brings us in line with other companies that we feel are doing a good job in the field.”
Aside from aligning NTTA with other agencies, Rey said the current EEO policy is “strictly” followed, but the update would make the policy stronger by making sure it “reflects our ethics and reflects our quest to avoid discrimination at all costs.”
Anable said he and McDonnell are looking at all governmental agencies and larger employers to work with to help them value diversity, which makes the companies attractive to potential LGBT employees and helps make the area ideal for other businesses to relocate to.
“Working together between Dallas and Fort Worth organizations really gives us a strong voice because they realize we’re speaking on behalf of a much larger constituency,” Anable said.
Both McDonnell and Anable said they’re confident the NTTA board will vote in favor of the amendment, especially since former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr is chairman of the Board of Directors.
Anable said Barr was supportive in 2000 when Fort Worth added sexual orientation protections for housing, public accommodations and employment, so “we know he’s supportive of LGBT rights.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 6, 2012.
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