The Ypsilanti City Council voted to protect people with misdemeanor convictions from discrimination during the council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
The unanimous decision, following requests from Mayor Pro-Tem Nicole Brown and Council Member Annie Somerville, adds misdemeanors convictions to an existing Discrimination Ordinance (Ordinance 1279) which aims to prevent discrimination in the City of Ypsilanti.
The amendment was made after it came to Somerville’s attention that when the council had expanded the ordinance to include protections for people with felony convictions in late February, people convicted of misdemeanors still faced the possibility of housing and other forms of discrimination. Somerville stated that it was something that the council needed “to go back and clean up.”
Although all six of the City Council members voted to approve the addition of a misdemeanor to the Discrimination Ordinance, some still questioned its effectiveness.
City Council Member Steve Wilcoxen brought up his concern of possible “hidden discrimination” even with the protections set in place. Wilcoxen pointed out that even though a landlord can not ask an applicant if they have committed a felony, there is still a possibility of being subjected to a background check which may lead to possible discrimination based on its results.
“It solves some problems, but I can see how people can still abuse this,” Wilcoxen said on the ordinace.
The City Attorney, John Barr, explained that the ordinance “is not crystal clear.” The ordinance prohibits discrimination, but lacks the details of what that discrimination may entail. Businesses and landlords might still list the question, “Have you committed a misdemeanor or felony?” on applications. Doing so, however, may be used as evidence of discrimination.
Barr explained that the evidence obtained by a victim of discrimination can be used to file a civil action against an offender. Depending on the type and severity of the discrimination, state and federal criminal laws may also be applicable to the case. The Discrimination Ordinance states that anyone who violates any provisions of the article can be fined up to $500.
In 2017, the addition of immigration status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, among others were added to the Discrimination Ordinance. Since 2017, the city attorney’s office has received zero discrimination complaints. “Even though no one has filed a discrimination case with this office, that doesn’t mean that the ordinance is not working. A lot of times, an ordinance can be a preventive measure,” Barr said.