The state Department of Civil Rights is now accepting complaints from people who say they’ve faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s also getting ready to defend its right to do so.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission recently changed its interpretation of the state’s civil rights law. It now includes being refused housing or employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity as forms of sex discrimination.
WDET’s Jake Neher speaks with Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, about the decision. Listen to that interview by clicking on the audio player above.
“Society has evolved as a whole on sex and sexuality and it’s become increasingly ridiculous to deny that sex and sexuality has nothing to do with sex,” said Dan Levy, an attorney for the department and the commission.
But critics are getting ready to challenge the commission’s decision. Attorney David Kallman says his firm is looking for clients to challenge the commission’s decision. He says the commission can’t change the rules unless the Legislature changes the law.
“It’s such an abuse of power, it’s unbelievable to me,” he said. “Get the law changed if you want it changed. Put it on the ballot if you want it changed. There are avenues to do this the right way, not by someone acting like we’re our own little kingdom here and we can by fiat just change the law.”
The Legislature has balked at efforts to amend Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights law to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Legislative Republicans are exploring asking state Attorney General Bill Schuette to issue a formal opinion on the commission’s decision.
“I think they’re outside their rails on what they’re authorized to do,” said state Sen. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake). “I’m not sure who they’re getting their legal advice from.”
The commission has also asked for a formal opinion from Schuette. Levy, the civil rights department attorney, says a legal challenge would be welcome as a way to settle the question.
“Not only are we prepared for litigation,” he said, “that’s kind of the point.”
Levy says the commission is confident its position will be upheld because of recent federal court decisions. There were no numbers available on how many claims of LGBT discrimination were filed with the department on its first day of taking complaints.