New Saline Human Rights Commission Formed to Judge Discrimination Complaints


Saline City Council approved bylaws for a Human Rights Commission formed to investigate and recommend prosecution for any violations of the city’s NonDiscrimination Ordinance.

Along with adopting the commission bylaws, the council updated the NDO to include protections for people regardless of familial status, gender expression or gender identity.

The Human Rights Commission will be appointed annually by the mayor with council’s support. It will be composed of the city manager (or his/her appointee), two members of the city council and two members of the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

Until now, NDO investigations were to be conducted by the city manager.

According to Kerstin Woodside, chair of the city’s DEI Committee and part of the workgroup which drafted these recommendations, some people felt that taking a complaint to the city manager might be intimidating.

How Will it Work?

According to City Manager Colleen O’Toole, a person who believes they’ve been discriminated against must make a complaint through the City Clerk’s office. The Clerk would assemble materials and send them to members of the HRC. The first job of the HRC is to determine whether the complaint should be referred to a state or federal agency. If not, the HRC will determine if the complaint has merit and whether it is covered by the ordinance. If the commission decides to take up the matter, it will schedule a hearing and allow the complainant and accused to present their positions.

If the commission determines a violation has happened, it will recommend the case to council, which would then decide whether or not the alleged violator will be subject to a civil infraction.

The hearing will take place in public.

When would this commission act?

When would the commission act? That’s not clear.

O’Toole has said there have been no NDO investigations since she became manager three years ago. Council passed the NDO in 2018. The Saline Post is unaware of any NDO investigations under former manager Todd Campbell.

The ordinance talks about housing, public accommodations, and employment. These are areas covered by state statute.  When the ordinance was passed, proponents said it was much needed because Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act did not specifically name LGBTQ+ people as protected classes.  But in 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court expanded the law to protect LBGTQ people. In 2023, sexual orientation and gender identity were added to anti-discrimination laws.

The Saline Post specifically asked O’Toole to give us an example of case the HRC might consider. O’Toole could not provide an example.

Would People Get a Fair Hearing?

When the ordinance was originally passed, members of council and proponents talked about the important symbolism of safety and welcoming to Saline’s LGBTQ residents. Is the new ordinance an example of new symbolism at play?

If you engage in what some deem wrongthink, could you end up in front of the commission charged with bigotry? 

The council is overwhelmingly liberal. The commission will include two members of Saline’s DEI committee - a committee that includes several vocal actors in the local culture wars. Of the DEI Committee members listed on the city’s website, none turn up as donors to Republican candidates in federal databases. Several are loyal donors to Democratic candidates or ActBlue.

The HRC won't exactly be a random jury of your peers, to say the least.

Would a coach who didn’t want a trans girl on his girls softball team risk public investigation as an accused transphobe by the HRC? Since city officials aren’t able to imagine any scenarios when the ordinance could be used, it’s hard to say. 

According to Marl, the role of the HRC is clear.

“Simply to investigate/evaluate allegations of intolerance or discrimination - the group will only meet when issues or complaints are submitted for their review/consideration,” Marl said.

Marl said he has no concerns about the partiality or objectivity of the DEI committee members. Nor, does he believe the HRC could be used to harass people with differing outlooks.

“I’m a firm believer in the freedom of speech and expression - no doubt, it's unpopular speech that needs protection,” Marl said. “Additionally, I'm not aware of any extremist points of view on DEI, City Council or staff reference equity and inclusion - our goal is not to embarrass, rather to hold accountable those who engage in clear and unambiguous discrimination against other groups, or individuals within our community.”

Marl said he’s screened and vetted all members of the DEI committee and he believes the members of HRC will be “able to objectively consider any/all complaints that are brought forward for consideration.”

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I prefer a group decides the merit of a complaint rather than a single person. Maybe I'm misunderstanding what exactly they mean by a "public hearing", but I don’t agree with placing the complainant and the accused in a public hearing to present their positions. Knowing this would discourage a complainant from issuing the complaint and would most certainly embarrass and possibly (wrongly) brand both the complainant and defendant.

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