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March 11, 2016
The State of Georgia may have an anti-discrimination law on the books. This legislative session includes the introduction of House Bill 849 titled the “Georgia Civil Rights in Public Accommodations Act.” The Bill was introduced by the chairman of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Rep. Rich Golick and has wide bipartisan support. The Bill would ban businesses from turning away customers based on their race, color, sex, religion or national origin and applies to places of public accommodation including hotels, restaurants, gas stations, entertainment venues and other service industries across the State of Georgia.
This bill is modeled after the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Just like the Federal process, the state law process would allow an individual who believes that he/she is a victim of discrimination to file a complaint with the State Commission on Equal Opportunity. An aggrieved party must file a complaint no later than one year after an alleged violation occurred. Once filed, the administrator shall have 90 days to investigate the complaint, with the option of a 30-day extension. During this time, the administrator has the option of engaging in conciliation, including binding arbitration between the parties. Similar to the EEOC, the administrator would then issue a finding as to whether discrimination occurred and file a formal charge against the business. The hearing would then be held before a board that could award compensatory damages to the aggrieved person and impose a fine against the business.
Notably, like Federal accommodation law, the Bill would not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some municipalities, such as the City of Atlanta, already have such laws. Georgia is one of only five states without a public accommodations law. The introduction of this Bill is significant because if passed, it will provide a state law claim of discrimination in addition to pre-existing Federal claims. A copy of the Bill can be found here.