Austin, Texas (June 17, 2010) – Equality Texas is expressing deep concern that Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has gutted its existing Non-Discrimination Employment Policy Statement. At a June 15th meeting of the board, operating as the Committee of the Whole, the agenda called for amending DART’s Non-Discrimination Employment Policy Statement to add genetic information (as required by Federal regulations) and gender identity to the agency’s existing policy statement. The existing policy statement, issued in June 1995, already includes non-discrimination provisions for race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, veteran status, and sexual orientation.
At the June 15th meeting, the language recommended by DART staff, “DART is committed to hiring, promoting and retaining the best qualified persons in all positions and, to the extent permitted by federal and/or Texas law, DART will not discriminate on the basis of….” was amended to read, “DART is committed to hiring, promoting and retaining the best qualified persons in all positions and, except [emphasis added] to the extent permitted by federal and/or Texas law, DART will not discriminate on the basis of….”
“Every legal interpretation we have received to date indicates that the addition of the word “except” guts the existing policy”, said Chuck Smith, Equality Texas Interim Executive Director. In its Agenda Report for the June 15th meeting, DART acknowledged that the existing policy statement “contains both mandated and discretionary protections.” “Some legal analysts have asserted that the addition of the work “except” effectively removes all discretionary protections in DART’s non-discrimination policy,” Smith added.
“In the past, DART has shown a desire to go beyond the bare minimum of federal and state non-discrimination requirements to make DART facilities, and their employees, inclusive and diverse,” said Equality Texas Political Director Randall Terrell. “Inserting the word “except” into existing DART polices calls this commitment into question. I sincerely hope that this is just a case of “over-lawyering” the policy language, and that DART will remove the word “except” from the proposed policy and adopt a non-discrimination policy that is inclusive of gender identity,” Terrell said.
The process still requires one more vote by DART’s full board of directors in order to adopt the changes to the Non-Discrimination Employment Policy Statement. While investigation continues into the intent of DART board member Ray Noah’s amendment to add the word “except”, Equality Texas is calling for removal of the word “except” from the proposed policy and adoption of the inclusive, supportive language originally recommended by DART staff.