Lawsuit challenges law overturning Metro's anti-gay bias ordinance

Monday, June 13, 2011 at 2:57pm

Lisa Howe, the lesbian soccer coach whose departure from Belmont University caused an uproar, joined Monday in filing a lawsuit challenging the state legislature for overturning Nashville’s new anti-gay bias ordinance.

The lawsuit in Davidson County Chancery Court contends the state law violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause by singling out gay people for denial of the right to seek legal protection from discrimination.

“This law is contrary to core Tennessee values,” said Abby Rubenfeld, the lawsuit’s lead attorney. “Tennessee is the volunteer state. We help each other. We don’t single out certain Tennesseans who are deemed  unworthy of help. Our legislators abused their power by preventing localities from assisting their own citizens. Rather than considering what is best for our state, they passed a law based on disapproval of gay and transgender people, which the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions do not permit.”

The Metro Council voted 21-15 to approve the ordinance in April, banning discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people by companies doing business with the city. The state legislation, signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam only three weeks ago, nullified that ordinance and barred any Tennessee city from adopting any such law in the future.

Howe is the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff. Her supporters say she was forced from her job at Belmont, sparking student protests, late last year after telling her team that she was gay and her partner was pregnant. The controversy prompted Metro Council members to introduce the anti-gay bias ordinance.

“I want my daughter to grow up in a state that treats everyone equally,” said Howe, who attended a news conference on the Metro Courthouse steps with her partner and baby. “This lawsuit is necessary because the legislation is discriminatory and unconstitutional.”

Plaintiffs also include council members Erik Cole, Mike Jameson and Erica Gilmore, and Shirit Pankowsky, a student at Martin Luther King Jr. High School and president of the school’s gay/straight alliance.

Pankowsky said she joined the lawsuit because the state law also nullifies a Metro schools policy aimed at protecting gay students from bullying.

“Why is it that the state of Tennessee should have to tell students that they are protected from guns and knives in the classroom but not their own peers?” she said.

The state law’s chief sponsor, Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, was unavailable for comment on the lawsuit. But lawmakers consistently denied during the past session that they were discriminating against gay people. Instead, they insisted they merely were trying to prevent burdensome and confusing new business regulations from popping up around the state.

Rubenfeld pointed to a 1996 Supreme Court ruling — Romer v. Evans — that threw out Colorado’s anti-gay constitutional amendment. It would have repealed anti-gay discrimination ordinances in Aspen, Boulder and Denver, and prohibited the passage of any future such ordinances.

The court ruled the amendment violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. Laws may disadvantage specific groups but only if they advance what’s deemed a legitimate government interest. Depriving gay people of their rights failed to advance such a legitimate interest, the court ruled.

Constitutional law experts point out that Colorado specifically prohibited municipalities from outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Tennessee’s case is not as clear.

That’s because the state law never mentions homosexuality. Instead, it prohibits cities from extending protections against discrimination to categories not mentioned in Tennessee’s statewide civil rights law. That law, while barring discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, sex, age or national origin, does not include sexual orientation or gender identity. 

27 Comments on this post:

By: Ingleweird on 6/13/11 at 4:27

This is great news.

By: govskeptic on 6/14/11 at 6:31

Another story and publicity for this very shy group of usual suspects!
The publicity statements already being put out by sponsors has our "TV
Anchor/Readers" stating this new law will allow bullying, what a
joke and stretch in that silly statement.

By: jdftm1947 on 6/14/11 at 6:46

way to go Abby .. and call it what you want . it is a bill by a bunch of white hetero males who are afraid of gblt people its that old good ole boy network .. that has kept women and other miniorities from fulfilling their dreams, hopes and desires and made the state of tn look like a bunch of rednecks .. if we want the state to grow and all citizens have a chance for good quailty life .. we need to be progressive ..
Jim FIelds

By: BenDover on 6/14/11 at 8:22

It's a stupid rule but the state should have stayed out of it.

By: holleracha on 6/14/11 at 8:23

Im in the job market. I know Im having trouble because Im older. Should they make a law to force business to hire me?? Where does this stop?

By: budlight on 6/14/11 at 8:33

new
By: holleracha on 6/14/11 at 8:23
Im in the job market. I know Im having trouble because Im older. Should they make a law to force business to hire me?? Where does this stop?

Yes.

jdftm, I know a lot of women and minorities who have fulfilled their dreams, hopes and desires - with hard work and dedication.

Our state does not look like a bunch of rednecks. Have you seen the Green Market in Chattanooga? You need to tour the state more.

By: franklinjones on 6/14/11 at 9:32

By: holleracha on 6/14/11 at 8:23
Im in the job market. I know Im having trouble because Im older. Should they make a law to force business to hire me?? Where does this stop?

The law does not force any business to hire any particular person. The law says that if you wanted to do business with Metro, you can't discriminate against gays and lesbians. Agism is already a protected class. If you are being discriminated because of your age, and you can prove it, you already have legal recourse.

By: ohplease on 6/14/11 at 9:34

I'm missing a connection here. What does the Green Market in Chattanooga have to do with laws passed by the TN legislature? The market may be very cool, but our legislature made us look ridiculous and ignorant. And for holleracha, the anti-discrimination bill passed by the Metro Council refers only to businesses that choose to enter into contracts with local government. That's only a tiny percentage of businesses in the state. And by the way, there are laws against discrimination because of age.

By: left on 6/14/11 at 9:59

GOD SAVE US ALL! AND I DO MEAN ALL! THEN LET THE JUDGEMENT BEGIN!

By: budlight on 6/14/11 at 10:14

ohplease, what does "gblt" have to do with " if we want the state to grow and all citizens have a chance for good quailty life .. we need to be progressive ..

Progressive does not necessarily equate to cowtowing to a special interest group. The GBLT movement is about sexual preference, as is hetrosexual. So why cater to one and not the other? You are aware that some gblt's discriminate and make fun of hetrosexuals, aren't you?

The bottom line for me is that hiring is done on the basis of SKILL SETS, not sexual preferences.

The Belmont policy of not discussing one's sexual leanings (or something like that) was it place BEFORE she went to work there. She violated a policy that she knew about BEFORE she signed on to work at Belmont. A company has the right to set their policies and to enforce them. She was not denied employment based on any of her sexual preferences. She did not get fired for being gay. She was let go for failing to comply with a policy.

Belmont and other companies have that right. If I want to hire only people with red hair to work for my company called "Red Head", it is my right to have that policy. Especially if my ad reads: "Looking for red heads to fill Red Head positions".

By: girliegirl on 6/14/11 at 10:21

Skill and qualifications such as education need to be PRIMARY in deciding who we want to work at our company, not their gender, or race or sexual exploits. I'm quite sure Anthony Weiner will demand special protection in the future, even though he sees nothing wrong with his behavior. Matter of fact, if there's an office affair w/married partners carrying on, it's quite disruptive to the working environment, as we all know, and should be grounds for firing these days, especially given the amount of domestic calls the police must answer here on a daily basis. So see? It runs both directions. Hire based on skill sets, education, reputation....not negative aspects.

By: Kosh III on 6/14/11 at 10:28

If I want to fire Catholics because I disagree with their cannibalistic practices, why not?
----
Had the governor really cared about equal rights, he would have expanded the law state-wide instead of this bigoted act.

There are already plenty of special rights categories: choice of religion, gender, age, race, color.
Sexual orientation is innate, unlike the special rights given to religionists who always CHOOSE their lifestyle, including the choice of acting evil towards others they don't like.

By: Ingleweird on 6/14/11 at 10:58

@budlight, RE: Belmont "policy":

Where did you obtain your facts on the Howe/Belmont situation? It is my understanding that there was no such "Don't Say Gay" policy in effect at Belmont, when Howe was let go. If confiding this information to her team was a termination-worthy offence, according to Belmont's bylaws or conduct codes, where is it written? Please correct me and direct me to any media report that indicates what you claim to be fact, because, until then, I'm not buying it.

By: girliegirl on 6/14/11 at 11:03

Well, Kosh, if they were acting appropriately, you wouldn't KNOW, technically speaking, that they were Catholic. LOL I'd like it if EVERYONE kept their faith (and LACK of faith) to themselves. Professionalism is just that.....and no room for religion or sexuality comes into it....period.

By: Ingleweird on 6/14/11 at 11:05

Furthermore, if Belmont wants to discriminate, they have that right (to a fault), but the city is in no way obliged to allow them to use our public parks for sports practices, or to rent them at discounted rates. If Belmont finds this arrangement to be discriminatory or retaliatory, well, it takes one to know one.

By: girliegirl on 6/14/11 at 11:16

And Belmont has the right to NOT accept your little darling into their school, which they probably already showed you. (just sayin') You're right. Belmont should pony up for their own park, and keep their proceeds to themselves, and not donate anything to the city. (tongue in cheek spite, ya know) And while they're at it, maybe they'll "direct" where their patrons and alums dine/stay while attending sporting events. Ouch. A pissing match, Ingle? Seriously? Piss off God...see where that gets ya.

By: girliegirl on 6/14/11 at 11:16

We've seen that enough, don't ya think?

By: Radix on 6/14/11 at 11:22

This doesn't make sense. Schools already take a very serious approach to bullying. Its not like bullying for certain reasons is allowed.

By: Radix on 6/14/11 at 11:28

Inglewierd said: "Furthermore, if Belmont wants to discriminate, they have that right (to a fault), but the city is in no way obliged to allow them to use our public parks for sports practices, or to rent them at discounted rates."

Of course they are obligated. Who 'owns' the city? Who makes those decisions? We do. The voters and residents. And that includes many people of all different views. Many who work at and attend Belmont. Not just the ones who think like Ingleweird. You seem to think you own the city. How about some tolerance and inclusion for people not like you?

By: Ingleweird on 6/14/11 at 11:39

@girlie:
No offspring of mine would be encouraged to attend Belmont; I'd encourage them to go to a blue state, where they have higher educational standards. Furthermore, I would let my child wait until they are an adult to choose a religion. While we're at it, being spiteful and all, why don't we just build a wall and tollbooths around Vanderbilt and Belmont?

Piss on Belmont's hate god. My god is not vengeful, has a superior sense of humor, and loves gays and straights indiscriminately.

By: Ingleweird on 6/14/11 at 11:44

@Radix:
Then you must accept that the Metro Council passed the non-discrimination ordinance as a reflection of the values of their constituents.

I have no tolerance for intolerance.

By: Radix on 6/14/11 at 1:13

Inglewierd,
And you must accept that the State did the same.

So you don't tolerate yourself? LOL

By: pswindle on 6/14/11 at 3:15

Good, go after the legislative bigots. Where are the lawyers to challange the collective bargaining that was taken away from teachers?

By: global_citizen on 6/15/11 at 8:44

"Im in the job market. I know Im having trouble because Im older. Should they make a law to force business to hire me??"

Well, first of all, anti-discrimination laws don't force a business to hire anyone. So educate yourself a little on this before making dumb comments.

Secondly, age discrimination has been covered by state and federal laws for decades now, so congratulations. Now, won't you allow gays and lesbians to enjoy the same non-discrimination laws that you're privileged to?

By: global_citizen on 6/15/11 at 8:47

"The Belmont policy of not discussing one's sexual leanings (or something like that) was it place BEFORE she went to work there. She violated a policy that she knew about BEFORE she signed on to work at Belmont."

bud, you don't know that Belmont had any such policy and you don't know that Lisa Howe knew about it if there were such a policy. So when your argument is based on nothing but conjecture, you really have no argument.

By: global_citizen on 6/15/11 at 8:51

"Piss off God...see where that gets ya."

Probably about the same place as if you piss off Santa Claus, or Superman, or unicorns, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and any of the other imaginary creatures you care to come up with.

By: Kosh III on 6/15/11 at 9:12

If an act was going to po God enough to make her do something: then Hitler would have never been born or been allowed to slaughter tens of millions.

A billion people do not have reliable access to potable water. Isn't that enough to po God?

Divorce rates are highest among southern church go-ers. Isn't that enough? "I hate divorce, says the Lord" Ml 2:16