Transgender people, pregnant women, nursing mothers, domestic violence victims and military members will receive added protection from discrimination by the Suffolk Human Rights Commission under a bill passed unanimously by county lawmakers Tuesday night.
The bill also will bar landlords from discriminating against people who receive public rental assistance and will prohibit employers from discriminating based solely on past criminal convictions.
A coalition of progressive groups, including civil rights and immigration advocates, supported the bill, sponsored by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
“The passage of this bill will send out a clear message to all those who live in Suffolk County that harbor prejudice, bigotry or racism,” Rabbi Steven Moss, chairman of Suffolk’s Human Rights Commission, said last week.
Currently, the five-member staff of the county’s Human Rights Commission, which investigates discrimination complaints, can hold hearings only if the matter concerns housing. The new law would allow them to hear cases about employment or public accommodation discrimination, said Jennifer Blaske, the commission’s executive director.
Acts of discrimination can bring fines of up to $50,000, or up to $100,000 for “willful, wanton, and malicious” discrimination. The commission gets about 160 to 170 complaints a year, Blaske said.
Advocates praised the bill’s passage.
“This is quite significant for the county,” said Irma Solis, Long Island housing organizer for Make the Road New York, a progressive advocacy group.
The law brings Suffolk’s existing human rights law up to state standards in some areas and gives additional protections in others. Some landlords, for example, won’t accept renters who pay with public assistance, Solis said. Under the new law, landlords “wouldn’t be able to deny them solely because they were receiving some type of subsidy,” she said.
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