Atlanta Amends Anti-Discrimination Ordinance to Include Protections for Gender Expression and Criminal Histories

By Rachel P. Kaercher, Wendy Buckingham and William J. Simmons © Littler November 14, 2022

​The City Council of Atlanta, Georgia recently passed an ordinance that amends its existing anti-discrimination law to include protections on the basis of criminal history status and gender expression. The ordinance is effective immediately.

With regard to gender expression, the law simply amends existing law to include gender expression as an additional protected characteristic.

With respect to criminal history, the law is worded to make it generally unlawful to discriminate based on the criminal history of applicants and employees. Practically speaking, however, the ordinance allows employment decisions based on criminal records, as long as employers consider specified factors in such decisions. This is because the law provides an exclusion that an "adverse employment decision based on criminal history status shall not be considered a violation" of the law if the criminal history is "related to the position's responsibilities," as determined by the evaluation of four factors:

  • Whether the person committed the offense.
  • The nature and gravity of the offense.
  • The amount of time since the offense.
  • The nature of the job. 

These factors generally mirror guidance the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued in 2012 on consideration of criminal records in employment, and they appear in various forms in other state and local "fair chance act" ordinances around the country. In addition, the Atlanta ordinance expressly states that employers can still follow state or federal laws that create bars to employment in certain positions based on convictions or criminal violations.

Finally, the ordinance adds both gender expression and criminal history status to preexisting prohibitions on "printing or publication of notices or advertisements indicating prohibited preference, limitation, specification, or discrimination" in employment. The ordinance does not provide any specific guidance on how a job advertisement might be construed to violate the ordinance when it addresses criminal history. Employers, therefore, may want to re-review job advertisements placed in Atlanta with an eye toward this presently ambiguous prohibition.

Under existing law in Atlanta, individuals who believe they are subject to employment discrimination in violation of the ordinance can file complaints with the Atlanta Human Relations Commission. Aside from ensuring compliance with the new Atlanta ordinance specifically, employers should be aware that criminal background screening continues to be a key focus area for administrative agencies and the plaintiffs' bar. Therefore, employers should consider reviewing background check policies and procedures to ensure compliance with federal, state and local laws in this ever-changing area.

Rachel P. Kaercher is an attorney with Littler in Atlanta. Wendy Buckingham and William J. Simmons are attorneys with Littler in Philadelphia. © 2022. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. 



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.

Member Benefit: Ask-An-Advisor Service

SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors offer guidance and resources to assist members with their HR inquiries.

SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors offer guidance and resources to assist members with their HR inquiries.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.