By David Tran
The Virginia General Assembly passed several bills this session expanding employment protections for people with disabilities and domestic workers but killed a pair of workplace harassment bills.
Five bills were introduced during the 2021 session to amend the Virginia Human Rights Act. Three passed the General Assembly. The Virginia Human Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, among other groups. Virginia last year became the first Southern state to pass sweeping anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community through the Virginia Values Act.
House Bill 1848 extends employment discrimination protection to people with disabilities. The legislation unanimously passed both chambers and Gov. Ralph Northam recently signed the bill into law.
“I am very happy that the bill has widespread support,” stated chief patron Del. Mark D. Sickles, D-Fairfax, in a press release. “I can’t thank our advocates enough, and am grateful for the leadership in Attorney General Mark Herring’s office and for the guidance of the disAbility Law Center.”
Workers with disabilities
Employers with five or more employees must make reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities unless the employer can demonstrate such accommodations would place an “undue hardship” on the employer. Current federal law prohibits discrimination under the basis of disability for employers with 15 or more employees.
Del. Kathy Tran, D-Springfield, said during a House subcommittee hearing that in 2019 the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was twice as high as those without disabilities.
“People who have disabilities, who are able to and want to work, I think we should try to help them be part of the workforce,” Tran said.
A person who claims they were denied reasonable accommodation must file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. They would need to exhaust all administrative processes before pursuing a lawsuit.
Colleen Miller, executive director of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, an advocacy organization, said the bill’s passage is “an important development for Virginians with disabilities who are in the workforce and wish to be fully employed.”
Domestic workers’ rights
A trio of bills centered on domestic workers’ rights, dubbed the Virginia Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, were introduced in both chambers this year. Last year, Virginia lawmakers passed a bill guaranteeing minimum wage to domestic workers.
The bills’ patrons highlighted the impact of excluding domestic workers from employment laws, which they said are bound to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow-era laws. Domestic workers include occupations such as “cooks, waiters, butlers, maids, valets and chauffeurs,” according to the bills.
A majority of domestic workers are women of color and are three times as likely to live in poverty than other workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute, an independent economic research organization.
Introduced by Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond, Senate Bill 1310 extends employment nondiscrimination to employers with one or more domestic workers. It also expands employment protections to domestic workers, including laws regarding the payment of wages.
“This is a huge step forward to provide stronger workers rights and a safer workplace for 60,000 Virginia domestic workers,” McClellan stated in a press release. “As the daughter, granddaughter, and great granddaughter of domestic workers, I know how essential domestic workers are to the economy and how poorly mistreated they’ve been for generations.”
McClellan’s bill passed the General Assembly and now heads to the governor’s desk. The House companion bill, HB 1864, from Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, also passed the General Assembly and awaits the governor’s signature.
Lawmakers also passed HB 2032, patroned by Del. Wendy W. Gooditis, D-Clarke. The measure does not amend the state’s Human Rights Act, but it ensures domestic workers are not excluded from employee protection laws. Workers will be able to file complaints regarding workplace safety. Virginia is the 10th state to pass such legislation. Portions of the bill that would include domestic workers under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act were removed.
Failed sexual harassment bills
The two bills amending the Human Rights Act that lawmakers could not advance would have strengthened current workplace sexual harassment laws.
Del. Vivian E. Watts, D-Fairfax, introduced HB 2155 to expand and clarify the definition of workplace harassment and sexual harassment. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 6-7. It was the delegate’s second attempt to pass such protections.
The Senate companion bill, SB 1360, reported out of the Senate Judiciary committee, but was sent back and never picked back up. Patroned by McClellan, the legislation died over concerns on the bill’s absence of employers’ liabilities, especially for small businesses.
Watts said her bill aimed to provide clearer definition of workplace and sexual harassment. The language in the bill comes from federal court harassment case decisions over a span of two decades, Watts said.
Watts’ measure clarifies that employers would be liable for the supervisors’ actions. She said committee members who voted against the bill failed to understand the guidance of employers’ liability is not currently spelled out in Virginia’s law. Employers may be alleviated from any liability if they can prove they “exercised reasonable care” to prevent and correct harassment or if employees “unreasonably” fail to take actions on “preventable or corrective opportunities” to avoid further harassment, according to the bill.
Both bills defined workplace harassment as an unwelcome conduct based on race, religion, natural origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and more. Sexual harassment includes a sexual advance, a request for sexual favors, or any conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace.
Watts said her bill will remove a glass ceiling and “power differential” that contributes to workplace and sexual harassment.
“If you don’t go along (with the workplace harassment), then you will be denied professional opportunities, work opportunities moving forward,” Watts said. “It is a power struggle, and that power struggle makes it a point of leverage.”
Prior to her bill’s death, Watts said there also was confusion over the Senate bill’s language, referring to the committee’s dispute on McClellan’s bill.
“There wasn’t a real focus as there needed to be,” Watts said.
McClellan’s bill was met with debate from other lawmakers in the Senate Judiciary committee, such as Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, over the bill’s language. McClellan asked Petersen if he wanted to add an amendment. He said he didn’t.
“I just want this bill to go away,” Petersen said.
Petersen questioned if his wife asking men “to move the furniture for her” constituted sexual harassment. Multiple lawmakers said the bill’s language was too broad.
McClellan, a gubernatorial candidate, is committed to advancing anti-workplace harassment laws, either as a legislator or governor, according to her spokesperson.
Watts said she will reintroduce her bill next year. She said she will make sure there is an understanding that the bill contains a “sound, legal approach” to employers’ liability.
“I believe that the majority of the members do believe that this is something that needs to be spelled out to protect employees, and particularly minorities and women,” Watts said.
2nd Street Festival Announces 2021 Headliner Plunky & Oneness
For over 50 years, Richmond saxophonist, songwriter and producer J. Plunky Branch has been at the vanguard of Afro-centric jazz, funk, R&B, house music, and go-go, weaving these interrelated musical forms into a forward-looking message of empowerment, positivity, and cultural awareness.
The 2nd Street Festival will return this fall, live and in person, Saturday – Sunday, October 2-3. Marking its 33rd year, the festival celebrates the rich culture of the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood in Downtown Richmond. This FREE event is produced by Venture Richmond Events.
Over the years, it has grown to be one of the Mid-Atlantic’s largest street festivals. In 2019, thousands visited historic Jackson Ward to reminisce about the days when 2nd Street was the heart and soul of Richmond’s African-American community and was known as “the Harlem of the South.” Today, Jackson Ward continues to be a thriving neighborhood and community. The 2nd Street Festival is an annual celebration and homecoming over two days that features three stages of live musical entertainment along with a Kidz Zone, popular food vendors, a marketplace and Artists Row to shop, and the Richmond Metropolitan Antique Car Club.
This year the festival features headliner Plunky & Oneness on Saturday, October 2. Many other great artists will be showcased over the two-day event.
Saturday’s Headliner, Plunky & Oneness
J. Plunky Branch
For over 50 years, Richmond saxophonist, songwriter and producer J. Plunky Branch has been at the vanguard of Afro-centric jazz, funk, R&B, house music, and go-go, weaving these interrelated musical forms into a forward-looking message of empowerment, positivity, and cultural awareness. As a native Richmonder, he was mentored by local R&B musicians and music educators, including jazz violinist Joe Kennedy, Jr.
Along with his band, Plunky & Oneness, he has appeared in concert with some of the biggest names in Black music, including Patti Labelle, Ray Charles, Earth Wind & Fire, Frankie Beverly & Maze, LL Cool J, Chuck Brown, and more. His song “Every Way But Loose” was a top-ten soul music chart hit in London in the 1980’s and his hit single, “Drop,” was released in 2007. He also wrote “2nd Street Jaunt,” a song that Venture Richmond used in TV commercials promoting the 2019 festival.
In addition to being a veteran saxophonist, J. Plunky Branch has served as an administrator, lecturer and teacher. Plunky is a two-time recipient of National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Fellowships and in 2017 was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force for the Promotion of the Arts in Virginia. Throughout his career Plunky has entertained and taught thousands, and in the process, has developed a broad and loyal following.
More information on the 2nd Street Festival and additional artists performing will follow later this summer as we continue to follow CDC and state guidelines for Covid-19 protocol for large outdoor events. A commitment to safety and adherence to local, state, and federal ordinances and guidelines is crucial.
For up-to-date information about the 2nd Street Festival, please visit: https://venturerichmond.com/our-events/2nd-street-festival-2021/
The 2nd Street Festival is presented by Dominion Energy, Altria, NewMarket Corp., and the City of Richmond
The 2nd Street Festival is sponsored by Virginia Union University, Brown Distributing, CoStar
Group, Community Foundation, Radio One Richmond, NBC12 and CW Richmond
Preview: Rested Kickers Hope to Kick their Way Back into the Race
David Beckham’s B team Ft. Lauderdale is in town and the Kicker plan to bend it right around the Florida goalkeeper.
Opponent: Ft. Lauderdale CF (5-7-2)
Date/Time: Saturday, July 16th, 6:30 PM
Last Result: Kickers 3 – North Texas 2
Weather Forecast From WeatherBug.com
Three Things to Kick About
- Momentum – Two weeks ago the Kickers came back twice to get the win. If they can keep that attitude and more importantly goal-scoring they’ve got a great chance to get the win.
- Keeping Pace or Sinking – The Kickers sit in the bottom half of the table. Due to having a bye week, they had to watch their position sink. A win on Saturday will allow them to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Kickers have 15 points, Ft. Lauderdale 17 so the math is obvious. For reference league leaders Omaha and Greenville sit at 22 points. It’s crucial that the Kickers don’t let that gap widen.
- Young Blood – Earlier this week the Kickers announced the signing of Richmond United midfielder Damian Gallegos to a USL Academy contract. Gallegos (18), a native of Mechanicsville, Va., has played for Richmond United for the last six years. Previously, he was a Richmond Kickers Youth player as a member of the U12 Elite team, and as a member of the travel teams starting at U9. “The Richmond Kickers pro team is about the community and we want to represent that community well,” Sawatzky said. “Damian is from the local youth soccer community and he embodies character in his approach. I think the speed of play and speed of thought in the pro training will help him as he grows, but he is a natural in our culture because he is humble, works hard, and he appreciates the opportunity to play with us before he heads off to college.”
I want to believe. This team has the talent it all comes down to execution. It’s going to be a hot-steamy night and I think the bye week will give the Kickers just enough of an advantage to pull off a win.
Kickers 1 – Baby Beckhams 0
Official Kickers Preview
Richmond came out in the second half and earned a penalty which Terzaghi converted adding to his six-goal tally for the season so far. Then, Terzaghi would assist Jonathan Bolanos for a brilliant lofted shot that would beat several NTX defenders and the goalie as well to hit the corner of the post and bounce over the goal line. Richmond Kickers finished the match with 13 shots. Bolanos and Terzaghi combined for seven shots and five shots on target. Zaca Moran was all over the field and had a passing accuracy of 89.5%. Jalen Crisler had eight clearances and five interceptions and Akira Fitzgerald made six saves to see out the 3-2 win over North Texas for the first time in Richmond Kickers’ history.
CBS6 Players to Watch
Take Down Your Bird Feeders to Help Fight Unknown Disease
We’re big fans of birds and hope this disease doesn’t cause too much damage.
Statement by Virginia Cooperative Extension Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Virginia is one of a growing number of states in the mid-Atlantic and greater Ohio River Valley regions currently experiencing a situation where large numbers of birds have become sick, incapacitated, or died. Although extensive investigation and testing is underway, a causative agent has not yet been identified. Not all bird species appear to be affected; those most affected so far have been Common Grackles, Blue Jays, European Starlings, American Robins, and various finch species. At this time, there does not appear to be any indication of transmission to or impact for humans, but residents are urged to not come into direct contact with nor handle any birds until such time as a causative factor has been determined.
At this time, residents are being asked to immediately do the following:
- Take down all bird feeders, empty and properly dispose of any unused contents, clean and disinfect (with 10% bleach solution) the feeders, and let air dry before putting them into temporary storage. Do not refill or replace feeders until directed that conditions are safe to resume feeding. Although there is no evidence to suggest that hummingbirds currently are being impacted by this event, it is recommended that all hummingbird feeders also should be a part of this sanitation effort.
- Empty, clean, and disinfect (with 10% bleach solution) any bird baths or other receptacle used to provide birds with water for drinking or bathing; do not refill until directed. • Keep companion animals away from sick or dead birds.
- Do not touch or handle sick or dead birds unless necessary for safety reasons; where contact is necessary, wear disposable gloves that then can be disposed safely without exposing others to potential hazard.
- If sick and/or dying birds are encountered, please complete and submit a reporting form (https://dwr.virginia.gov/wildlife/diseases/bird-mortalityreporting-form/) to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.
Because of the volume of birds involved in this event, many of our local wildlife rehabilitators are being overwhelmed with requests to provide care. Before thinking about transporting any birds to a rehabilitator, call ahead and make sure the facility is willing and capable of accepting additional patients and to obtain instructions on how to legally and safely transport an animal in need of care.
Additional information about this mortality event can be obtained at the website of the U.S. National Wildlife Health Center (https://www.usgs.gov/news/interagencystatement-usgs-and-partners-investigating-dc-area-bird-mortality-event).
Don’t worry about your feathered friends going hungry. Summertime is a time of plenty for the birds.