URBANA – The new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #70 (FOP) was passed on September 13th, 2021 by the Urbana City Council.

The new FOP Contract contains a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the FOP and Urbana pertaining to Urbana’s Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB). The MOU contains a clause prohibiting any person convicted of a felony from serving on the CPRB.

View/download full version of the FOP Contract for 2020-2023

This restriction is prohibited by Chapter 12 of Urbana City Code (also known as the Urbana Human Rights Ordinance). During the public input session, members of the public voiced their concerns regarding the discriminatory nature of prohibiting a person convicted of a felony from serving on the CPRB. Members of the public also questioned the legality of having a clause that violates Urbana’s Human Rights Ordinance in the FOP contract.

In response to the concerns raised, Urbana’s lead negotiator and Labor Attorney, Benjamin Gehrt of Clark Baird Smith LLP was quick to assure City Council members that the city could prohibit any person convicted of a felony from serving on the CPRB.

Gehrt gave his assurances based on two labor and employment laws – Section 15 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/15) and the bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ) clause in Section 12-62(f) of the Urbana City Code (Human Rights Ordinance).

5 ILCS 315/15 (a) states that “In case of any conflict between the provisions of this Act and any other law (other than Section 5 of the State Employees Group Insurance Act of 1971 and other than the changes made to the Illinois Pension Code by Public Act 96-889 and other than as provided in Section 7.5), executive order or administrative regulation relating to wages, hours and conditions of employment and employment relations, the provisions of this Act or any collective bargaining agreement negotiated thereunder shall prevail and control.

It seems erroneous to apply 5 ILCS 315/15 (a) to volunteer members of a review board when the act is narrowly construed to matters relating to wages, hours, and conditions of employment and employment relations.

Meanwhile, Section 12-62 (f) of Urbana’s Human Rights Ordinance specifies exceptions to the ordinance for certain employment requirements. Section 12-62 (f) states “It shall not be an unlawful practice for a notice or advertisement to indicate a preference, limitation or specification where such factors are bona fide occupational qualifications necessary for employment. Nor shall it be unlawful for a person to request, accept an order for, refer or hire an individual based on such a preference, limitation or specification where such factors are bona fide occupational qualifications necessary for such employment.

Furthermore, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Illinois Statute (775 ILCS 5/2-104), and Illinois Administrative Code (Department of Human Rights, Section 2500.50) also define the bona fide qualification occupation exemption in the context of employment.

The Illinois Administrative Code, Section 2500.50 states that “A BFOQ is properly applied as an exclusion of an entire class of individuals on the basis of a standard that is necessary for safe or efficient job performance.  If an employer or employment agency can demonstrate that all persons with a particular physical or mental condition would be incapable of performing a specific job in a safe or efficient manner, the BFOQ exception to the Act may be invoked.

Based on the definitions of bona fide occupational qualifications in local, state, and federal statutes, it also seems dishonest for Gehrt to apply that exemption to volunteer members of the CPRB.

Despite the discriminatory clause and Gehrt’s erroneous claims that Urbana can legally discriminate against residents with felony convictions, Council members Maryalice Wu, Shirese Hursey, Jaya Kolisetty, and James Quisenberry voted to approve the contract. Grace Wilken voted “present” (counted as a yes vote). Chaundra Bishop and Christopher Evans voted against the new FOP contract.

Ben Gehrt’s assurance to City Council during the September 13th, 2021 meeting can be viewed here: