City in Iowa to make antigay discrimination complaints public

Burlington, Iowa, will face no legal problems under a rule to make public the names of people and businesses that allegedly discriminate against gays and lesbians, the city attorney said. "I don't believe they could sue the city for slander because a third party files a complaint with the city," Scott Power said Wednesday. "I've never seen that happen.... Legally, I don't believe you could sue a city over a complaint that's filed." The city's Human Rights Commission voted unanimously to approve a new
procedure to address sexual orientation discrimination.

Following the vote, Brad Cranston, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, said he was concerned that the new policy opens the city up for slander lawsuits. "What the Human Rights Commission proposed on Tuesday night is nothing less than an unveiled end run around the assumed refusal of the city council to pass a gay rights ordinance," Cranston said Wednesday. "In an attempt to bring their definition of justice to bear without the legal authority of an ordinance, they have proposed open-ended investigations by who knows who, and the public printing of the names of anyone who is accused of the Human Rights Commission's definition of unjustifiable discrimination."

The procedure allows residents who believe they were discriminated against in housing, credit, employment, education, or public accommodations because of their sexual orientation to fill out a complaint form with the commission. The four-page form includes the name of the complainant, the name of the person who allegedly discriminated against them, the name of the company, and a statement explaining how they believe they were discriminated against. The name of the person or entity accused of discrimination becomes public information after the form is submitted, which worries Cranston because he believes it could make some people look bad even if they did nothing wrong.

Power said there's nothing in Iowa law that prohibits the commission from implementing the procedure or from making public the names of those accused of sexual orientation discrimination. Upon receiving a complaint form, the commission plans to screen the matter. If it appears discrimination took place, the commission would try to resolve the issue by then attempting to hold a mediation session between the complainant and the person or entity accused of discrimination. "What we want to avoid is somebody filing a frivolous complaint or a groundless complaint with the hope of making it public to deter some sort of conduct," Power said. "That would be a misuse of the process. That's why we have to screen these things to make sure they have some merit to them."

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