The South Florida Water Management District, which has about 1,500 employees, has announced that it is prohibiting transgender workers from being harassed and discriminated against based on both "sexual orientation" and "gender identity or expression." Executive Director Peter Antonacci says that LGBT employees are protected whether they work in a jurisdiction that has LGBT-inclusive rights or not.
"This news has statewide implications," Palm Beach County Human Rights Council President Rand Hoch tells New Times.
The PBCHRC has spurred several cities and municipalities across the state to pass an LGBT-inclusive ordinance and has been diligently working to persuade elected officials in across several counties to enact the ordinance.
In 2008, the PBCHRC asked the South Florida Water Management District to include "gender identity or expression" as part of the protected classes into the nondiscrimination and harassment policies. This soon led to District Administrative Policy 220-2, General Procedures, being updated to include "gender identity or expression" in the definition "harassment."
But, as the PBCHRC points out, "gender identity or expression" was not included in District Policy 220-3, Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment, which includes race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, veteran status, and sexual orientation or "other."
This led the civil rights group to contact district officials to get clarification on whether the District's Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment covered only the six counties that had so far enacted LGBT-inclusive ordinances — including Palm Beach.
PBCHRC also asked the South Florida Water Management District to specifically include "gender identity or expression" in the Equal Employment Opportunity and Harassment Policy.
The group was then informed by the South Florida Water Management District counsel that since "gender identity or expression" had been incorporated into the District's Administrative Policies "further amendment to District policies is not necessary," according to Hoch.
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On December 17, the PBCHRC received an email from Antonacci affirming that gender-nonconforming employees are protected from discrimination and harassment regardless of whether they work in a jurisdiction that has LGBT-inclusive civil rights laws.
"Since the South Florida Water Management District is not only the largest of Florida's five water management districts but also is one of the largest water management systems in the world, this news is extremely significant, " says Hoch. "We have been working with the South Florida Water Management District on LGBT issues since 2006 and it is reassuring to know that all of the District's LGBT employees are protected."
According to Hoch, Florida's four other water management districts — Northwest Florida Water Management District, Suwannee River Water Management District, St. Johns River Water Management District, and Southwest Florida Water Management District — do not provide any protection for their LGBT employees.
"In light of the action taken here in South Florida, perhaps the Florida's four other water management districts will now take steps to protect their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination," he says.