Anne Arundel County has expanded the powers of its Human Relations Commission to further address discrimination at the county level, which could expedite the process of getting complaints heard.

The County Council on Monday unanimously passed the county’s first extensive anti-discrimination law. It will empower the commission to investigate discrimination complaints in noncounty employment and public accommodations, in addition to housing.

“We’ve come a long way in Anne Arundel County but that’s not to say that there’s no discrimination here, and that there aren’t issues that people need to have a viable place to bring a complaint,” District 6 council member Lisa Rodvien said in an interview.

The law prohibits discrimination based on age, ancestry, citizenship, color, creed, disability, familial status, gender identity or expression, marital status, national origin, occupation, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or source of income.

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An employee must file a complaint of discrimination before going to court. Employees can submit complaints to federal and state agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, however these agencies usually have a backlog of cases, said Ben Barlow, an Annapolis labor and employment attorney.

Barlow said the long wait to address a complaint, following an experience of discrimination, can add insult to injury.

“There’s some unjust situation that has happened. And then on top of it, they just have to get in line where they have to wait forever to have things taken care of,” Barlow said in an interview. “And hopefully, by having another way to address the discrimination at the county level, that will just mean that people’s concerns can be addressed, hopefully, a little bit more quickly.”

Rodvien agreed.

“When you’re dealing with a situation, whether it’s employment or housing, you don’t want to have to wait a long time. You want to get to the resolution sooner than later,” Rodvien said.

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The lack of a comprehensive bill at the county level was a known gap and something other counties already had in place, according to Rodvien.

Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as Baltimore City previously codified civil rights protections that include housing, areas of noncounty employment and public accommodations.

Rodvien said the unanimous vote by the council, which has four Democrats and three Republicans, is also cause for celebration.

“It’s something you certainly would hope would get a 7-0 vote but you never want to take those things for granted.”

County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat, echoed those sentiments. “I want to thank all seven members of the county council for their unanimous support of our proposal to expand anti-discrimination protections in the county,” Pittman said in a statement. “We will continue to work to promote equity and justice.”

Royale Bonds attended Southern Illinois University. Go Salukis! She previously worked as an affordable housing reporter in Greenville, South Carolina. Royale enjoys long naps, snacking and endless scrolling on social media. She looks forward to reporting on Anne Arundel County and covering the stories that matter.

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