Protecting the right to marry, work, learn, reside, associate and be equal is fundamental to preventing discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity. SLC has tirelessly worked to end all forms of discrimination and to eliminate prejudice and unjust barriers in housing, health care, employment, education, homeless shelters, and public services. We have sued under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, Title VII, Fair Housing Act, Section 1981, Section 1982, and the U.S. Constitution to challenge discrimination based on disability, national origin, race, mental health, HIV, and sexual orientation.
Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity
Claire, et al. v. Fla. Dep’t of Mgmt. Serv., et al (N.D. Fla., J. Walker, 2020). Plaintiffs Jami Claire, Kathryn Lane, and Ahmir Murphy are state employees who have been denied medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria because of the state’s categorical exclusion of coverage for medically necessary gender-affirming care in health care plans provided to state employees. Some transgender people experience gender dysphoria, the medical diagnosis for the clinically significant distress sometimes resulting from the incongruence between a person’s gender identity and their sex assigned at birth. Left untreated, this serious medical condition often leads to debilitating distress, depression, anxiety, impairment of function, and self-harm, including suicide. The lawsuit alleges the State’s exclusion of medically necessary gender-affirming care in its employee health plans constitutes unlawful sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The Florida Department of Management Services is sued as the state agency responsible by law for establishing the terms, conditions, and criteria in the plans offered to state employees and intentionally procured health insurance plans with categorical exclusions for medically necessary gender-affirming care. Cross-summary judgment motions are pending. Co-counsel are ACLU of Florida, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and pro bono attorney Eric Lindstrom.
Pride Community Ctr. of N. Ctrl. Fla. v. Ron Chambers Group, LLC (Fla. Div. of Admin. Hrgs. 2014). All people should be able to access places of public accommodation, including facilities that offer lodging, food, entertainment, health care, professional services, or recreation. However, federal and state law currently do not provide explicit protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity at places of public accommodation. Several cities and counties, including Gainesville, have added sexual orientation and/or gender identity as protected classes under local human rights ordinances to provide these protections. SLC represented the Pride Community Center of North Florida in a discrimination suit on the basis of sexual orientation under Gainesville’s human rights ordinance based on a pattern of discriminatory towing of its visitors. The Gainesville Human Rights Commission issued a probable cause finding, and prior to the hearing, the parties reached a settlement agreement that resolved the ongoing parking disputes and provided clear protocols related to towing of Pride Center visitors.
Hernando 515 v. Simmons (Fla. 5th Cir. Ct. 2000). SLC defended a tenant with mental illness in an eviction action filed by the owner of a privately owned, but federally subsidized, housing complex for the elderly and persons with disabilities. The tenant’s sole source of income was his Social Security disability payment. If evicted, it was unlikely he would find other housing. The eviction action alleged lease violations for behaviors that were directly related to his mental illness. We requested, as a “reasonable accommodation” under the Fair Housing Act, that the owner suspend the eviction to allow time for our client to seek and receive additional treatment for his mental illness, but the management did not respond. We settled for damages and dismissal of the eviction action.
Carr v. Upper Pinellas Ass’n for Retarded Citizens (UPARC) (Fla. 2d DCA), reported in 11 ABA Mental & Phys. Disability L. Rptr. 341 (1987). We defended a service provider for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities against an attempt to block the establishment of a group home in a residential district. The trial court’s holding that group homes can be barred by a deed restriction limiting use of subdivision property to single families was unsuccessfully appealed. Subsequent legislation in the Florida 1989 session, known as the Community Residential Homes Act, created a new Chapter 419 and alleviated the problem of barriers to siting of group homes for disabled citizens. Certain group homes were granted the right to site in certain residential districts. For certain other residential districts, a procedure was enacted to minimize possible discriminatory animus toward residents of group homes.
Arline v. Nassau Cnty. Sch. Bd., 480 U.S. 273 (1987). To protect the rights of employees with contagious diseases, SLC co-authored a brief in a case that resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that people with tuberculosis and other contagious diseases are covered by federal anti-discrimination laws. The Court ruled that employment cannot be terminated without an objective showing of a probable risk of harm to others. Lead counsel was George K. Rahdert.
Kelley v. Bechtel Power Corp., 633 F. Supp. 927 (S.D. Fla., J. Hoeveler, 1986). In a case under the Florida Human Rights Act to challenge the termination of an employee because of his perceived history of epilepsy, the federal district court wrote a comprehensive opinion setting out the procedures, burdens of proof, and substantive standards for disability employment cases that became the benchmark for future cases under Florida law. Co-counsel was Neil Chonin.
Counts v. U.S. Postal Serv., 631 F.2d 46 (5th Cir. 1980). In one of the first cases to challenge federal agency employment discrimination based on disability (here, history of epilepsy), the federal appeals court established a private cause of action which allows persons to bring future lawsuits to challenge discrimination. This precedent was followed by other federal courts of appeal and subsequently was adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Co-counsel was John R. Nettles.
Collier Cnty. v. Training & Educ. Ctr. for Handicapped (Fla. 20th Jud. Cir.), reported in 3 ABA Mental Disab. L. Rptr. 111 (1979). SLC brought the first lawsuit under federal disability discrimination laws to challenge Florida’s application of zoning restrictions on group homes for persons with disabilities. The lawsuit was initiated by Collier County for alleged public nuisance and local zoning code violations that restricted non-familial residential groups. We filed counterclaims on behalf of residents with disabilities based on the federal Rehabilitation Act and Civil Rights Act, and our federal constitutional claims were upheld by the trial court. These rulings came at a time when there was no precedent as to the application of these federal statutory and constitutional provisions to local zoning codes as they affected citizens with disabilities, and no precedent in Florida on whether state courts had concurrent jurisdiction to entertain federal claims under these civil rights laws. The group home residents were permitted to continue their occupancy, an important victory in the ongoing struggle to ensure persons with disabilities are permitted to reside in the community and not be subject to unlawful segregation and discrimination.
Arnao v. Landmark Residential, et al. (M.D. Fla., J. Whittemore, 2009). Historically, race discrimination by property owners and real estate agents helped create dramatic patterns of housing and neighborhood inequality. We helped individuals remedy race discrimination in housing on behalf of Antoinette Arnao, an African-American woman who experienced discriminatory treatment when attempting to lease an apartment in Central Florida. The leasing agent refused to show her an available unit or provide her with an application, but then treated a white individual more favorably when she visited the same complex a few days later. SLC filed a race discrimination lawsuit in federal court, which was settled to provide damages to Arnao.
Henry, et al., v. National Hous. Partnership, as Gen’l Partner of Kennedy Homes Ltd. Partnership, et al. (N.D. Fla., J. Mickle, 2006). In 2003, a fire engulfed Kennedy Homes, a federally subsidized multi-family housing complex for low- and extremely low-income families located in Gainesville. The fire was caused by leaking gas lines, a symptom of years of neglect and poor maintenance. The complex was closed due to unsafe conditions, and all of the residents were forced to relocate. Many residents were unable to afford the increased costs of replacement housing. SLC and Three Rivers Legal Services represented 35 former residents who sued in federal court alleging race discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act and other claims. The suit aimed to hold the private owner of Kennedy Homes and its parent corporation AIMCO (the largest owner of privately held low-income housing in the nation) responsible for the lack of maintenance that led to its closure. A confidential mediated settlement was reached.
Grayson, et al. v. J.P. Florida Productions, et al. (Fla. 6th Jud. Cir., J. Campbell 2011). J.P. Florida Productions recruited men experiencing homelessness and mental illnesses or other disabilities to participate in “homeless beatdowns.” The company's employees offered the men $50 to let a female mixed martial arts fighter beat them for 12 minutes on camera. The men were not permitted to defend themselves and suffered multiple injuries as a result of the beatings, including broken bones and other serious injuries. Their beatings were taped and sold on the company's website. The suit alleged four counts, including a claim under Florida's Hate Crimes Act based on the discriminatory targeting of these men because they were homeless. As a result of this lawsuit, the State Attorney’s office charged the owner of J.P. Florida Productions and one of the women fighters with felony aggravated abuse of the disabled. The criminal court ordered the defendants to take down the website and not sell any videos of people known to be homeless or have a disability. The case settled for damages and an agreement not to sell any of the plaintiffs’ videos.