Two women file a lawsuit after they’re told they can’t enter a strip club.
Two women, Anita Yanes and Brittney Smith, sued in April 2018 under a human rights ordinance in Orange County, Florida, after they were not allowed to enter Rachel’s strip club in Orlando in February 2018 unless they were accompanied by a man. However, Judge Keith Carsten of Orange County concluded Florida’s Civil Rights Act of 1992 preempted the local ordinance and dismissed the suit.
According to court records, “The friends made plans for a girl’s night out at the adult establishment near the Orlando International Airport that describes itself as a ‘World Class Gentlemen’s Club & Steakhouse.’ A manager reportedly said the rule discouraged prostitution, helped keep club visitors’ focus on the strippers, and avoided situations in which women would come in looking for their husbands and cause drama.’”
At least a dozen Florida cities and counties are filing amicus briefs in the appeal that support local anti-discrimination laws. Equality Florida, an advocacy group for civil rights and protections for LGBTQ residents in Florida, has also shown its support. Equality Florida credited local laws for covering about “60% of Floridians with nondiscrimination laws” and said, “the protections are vital to LGBTQ Floridians.”
“Precedent is clear, and it’s on our side,” said Jon Harris Maurer, its public policy director. “For decades, Florida Supreme Court case law has established that local governments are well within their authority to enact nondiscrimination ordinances.”
Matthew Dietz, an attorney for the nonprofit Disability Independence Group in Miami, is representing the plaintiffs, arguing, “state and federal anti-discrimination laws create minimum protections, and local jurisdictions can provide additional protection.” He said, “This baseless exclusion is the exact type of discrimination the ordinance was designed to eradicate.”
“The dismissal is erroneous and jeopardizes the validity of local human [rights] ordinances across the State of Florida,” a resolution reads, “including the City’s own Human Rights Ordinance and directs the City Attorney to seek leave of court to appear as amicus curiae and file a brief in support of Plaintiffs and in defense of Orange County’s Human Rights Ordinance.”
The ruling could void 46 local protection measures like Orange County’s, preventing local governments from barring discrimination, Robert Rosenwald, a city attorney for Miami Beach, said, adding, “At its most broad, the ruling stands for the proposition that local governments can’t prohibit discrimination at all. It could be incredibly damaging to municipalities around the state.”
“My thought, my opinion, is that the left-leaning cities and counties in our state are opposed to the legislation promulgated by the Republican-dominated Florida legislature; thus, they are attempting to gut state law,” Rachel’s strip club’s attorney, Steven Mason, said. “Yes, this case is of crucial constitutional importance, and I understand why certain cities and counties across the state are in a panic that their anti-discrimination codes may be invalidated. I hope that they are; they are unconstitutional.”
He added, “They don’t want a woman walking around that bar talking to the male customers, going up to the bar, and then when an exchange occurs, the liability is imputed to them even though they had no involvement in it…We’re going to fight to the death to protect this bar.”