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MADISON, WI MAKES NON-RELIGIOUS A PROTECTED CLASS (Posted by Mark B. Zinman on 4/2/15)

wisconsinAs a former graduate of University of Wisconsin – Madison, I keep an eye on local news in Madison.  At this time of the year, most news stories are surrounding the NCAA Final Four.  However, I came across an interesting news story out of Madison.  This week, the City Council in Madison, amended their Equal Opportunities Ordinance to prohibit discrimination against people who consider themselves agnostic or atheist.  In other words, the law provides protection from discrimination based upon a person’s non-religious belief.  Such persons are now considered within a protected class.

It appears that this is the first ordinance of its kind throughout the country.  It prohibits employers and landlords from discriminating against people based upon their lack of a religious belief; it further provides that such persons have equal access to public facilities and accommodations.  The penalty for a violation is $100 to $500.  It does not have the same penalties as state or federal fair housing laws, as it was passed on a municipal level.

This is probably an issue that many people have not considered.  However, the group testifying in support of the ordinance said that they have previously faced problems with a business refusing to print t-shirts and brochures for them, due to their lack of religious beliefs.

In Arizona, we have substantial equivalency with the federal government, and thus Arizona only recognizes the seven federal protected classes: race, color, religion, national original, sex, disability and familial status.  However, Tempe, Phoenix and Tucson (due to their size) are permitted to add additional protected classes.  Those three cities have all added “sexual orientation and gender identity” as an additional protected class.  On the other hand, Madison has numerous additional protected classes, such as marital status and source of income.  The full ordinance, and all protected classes, can be found here.





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