On December 16, 2019, Equality Florida, Impact Fund, and NCLR led a coalition of Florida civil rights groups and nonprofit organizations in filing an amicus 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 & 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 plaintiffs appealed.
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.
On July 24, 2020, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s invalidation of Orange County’s HRO on the ground that Orange County had not been joined as a defendant. The appellate court held that if a defendant seeks to defend a lawsuit by a private plaintiff on the ground that a local ordinance is invalid, the local government must first be made a party by third-party complaint. It did not reach the issue of whether Orange County’s HRO was preempted.
Amici are represented by NCLR, the Impact Fund, and local counsel Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll PLLC.