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Workers’ Group Pushes O.C. for Anti-Bias Rules

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of Orange County employees has asked the county to develop rules banning workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Orange County Human Relations Commission has been assisting the employees in their effort and will discuss the issue at its meeting today .

Rusty Kennedy, the commission’s executive director, said the anti-discrimination rules have been the subject of several discussions between county officials and the employees, who complained about mistreatment and occasional name-calling by co-workers.

“They have experienced difficulties and want to see what the county can do to eliminate the problems by educating the work force,” Kennedy said. “They are asking to work without having people make fun of them.”

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State labor codes already prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But the workers want protection for gays and lesbians added to the county’s own anti-discrimination policies, which already ban religious, gender and racial bias. They have also suggested that the county hold diversity training sessions on the issue.

The proposals have won support from several local gay groups, but some county leaders expressed wariness about changing the rules.

“I’m certainly open to looking at any concerns out there. But it’s my understanding that we have anti-discrimination rules in effect that protect everyone,” said Supervisor Charles V. Smith. “I would be against setting up a program that gives special treatment or preference to one group.”

Before county employment rules can be changed, however, the Board of Supervisors must review and approve them.

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Human Relations Commissioner Becky Esparza said she needs more information before making a decision on the rules change. But she expressed strong support for some form of diversity training.

“There are a lot of sensitive issues that have to be dealt with,” Esparza said. “A lot of times, people aren’t sure how to deal with issues like this. [Training] gives them to the tools.”

The push for new anti-discrimination rules began last year when the Human Relations Commission was approached by three members of a support group for gay and lesbian county employees.

Kennedy said meetings between the workers and county officials have proven successful so far and will continue.

, The county Human Resources Department has been talking with several department managers about improving workplace atmosphere, he said.

“The county has been very responsive when it became aware of the situation,” Kennedy added. “I think it’s gone very well.”


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