FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 16, 2019
Jon Harris Maurer, Public Policy Director
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Teddy Basham-Witherington, Impact Fund, Deputy Director
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Christopher Vasquez, NCLR Communications Director
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Equality Florida, Impact Fund, NCLR Lead Civil Rights Groups Brief in Florida Appeals Court Fight to Protect Local Human Rights Ordinances
Broad coalition of civil rights groups and nonprofit organizations explain that HROs in FL are vital for providing protections against many forms of discrimination
DAYTONA BEACH, FL — Today, Equality Florida, Impact Fund, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights led a coalition of Florida civil rights groups and nonprofit organizations in filing an amicus (friend of the court) brief urging Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal to reverse a trial court ruling invalidating Orange County’s Human Rights Ordinance (HRO). The case is Yanes v. O C Food and Beverage, LLC.
Anita Yanes and Brittney Smith brought a sex discrimination lawsuit alleging they were denied entrance to Rachel’s Orlando, a club and restaurant in Orange County, FL. The lawsuit alleges that Rachel’s requires women to be accompanied by a male companion, which violates Orange County’s HRO.
The trial court dismissed the case, accepting the defendants’ argument that the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA) preempts and prohibits local governments from enacting HROs to protect their communities from discrimination. The amicus brief describes the urgent need to address ongoing discrimination in Florida and the many critical protections provided by local HROs, including protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which are not explicit in the FCRA. Many local HROs in Florida extend more broadly than state law in protecting elderly residents, veterans, and victims of domestic violence, for example.
“For many years, local HROs have been essential tools for LGBTQ Floridians to address discrimination in many aspects of life,” said Jon Harris Maurer, Equality Florida’s Public Policy Director. “Sixty percent of Floridians – more than twelve million people – live in cities and counties with local HROs that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These local protections are LGBTQ Floridians’ only recourse because our legislature has failed to enact explicit statewide protections, despite overwhelming public support.”
“Florida’s courts have long recognized the broad authority of local governments to enact HROs protecting the dignity, health, and welfare of their residents,” said Lindsay Nako, Director of Litigation and Training at the Impact Fund. “The trial court’s improper dismissal of the case potentially impacts future enforcement of HROs protecting millions of vulnerable Floridians,” added Julie Wilensky, Senior Staff Attorney at NCLR.
“The Florida Supreme Court decided in 1989 that local governments have the constitutional authority to enact more protective discrimination laws than the one enacted by the State of Florida and that Florida law does not preempt the more protective local law,” according to the City of Miami Beach’s First Assistant City Attorney, Robert Rosenwald. Miami Beach filed a separate amicus brief on December 12 with a coalition of more than 20 local governments urging the Appeals Court to reverse the trial court ruling.
The amicus brief of Equality Florida, Impact Fund, and NCLR is supported by a broad coalition of civil rights groups and nonprofit organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the ACLU of Florida, Florida National Organization for Women, Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Freedom for All Americans, Lambda Legal, League of Women Voters of Florida, Legal Aid at Work, and Zebra Coalition. The law firm Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll, PLLC is serving as local counsel.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) is a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. Since its founding, NCLR has maintained a longstanding commitment to racial and economic justice and the LGBTQ community’s most vulnerable. www.NCLRights.org
Equality Florida is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBTQ community. Through education, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and lobbying, we are changing Florida so that no one suffers harassment or discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Impact Fund was founded in December 1992 to help advance economic, environmental, racial, and social justice through the courts. Originally envisioned as a purely grant making organization, the Impact Fund has made more than 680 grants totaling just over $7.3M. Since its inception, the Impact Fund has grown to include both advocacy and education in its range of services. Today, the Impact Fund litigates a small number of cases directly, authors amicus briefs, provides a substantial amount of pro-bono consulting and presents an annual conference for plaintiff-side class action practitioners, a training institute for budding public interest class action practitioners, and numerous seminars and webinars. Click here for the 2019 Annual Report. www.impactfund.org