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Michigan Civil Rights Commission Urged to Adopt Interpretive Statement

November 28th, 2017

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was recently urged to expand a non-discrimination law's application to include LGBTQ individuals.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was recently urged to expand a non-discrimination law’s application to include LGBTQ individuals.

In two letters from August, 41 House and Senate members urged the Michigan Civil Rights Commission to adopt an interpretive statement to expand a law’s application. Concurrently, the group Equality Michigan asked the commission to contemplate whether they should investigate sexual orientation and gender identity complaints under the definition of sex discrimination that is already prohibited under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights of 1976. Over 11 bills to expand Elliott-Larsen to add protections for individuals who identify as LGBTQ have been introduced since 1999, but none has been approved. In 2014, Michigan’s legislatures most recently tried to expand the Elliott-Larsen Act.

An Overview of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights of 1976

The Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, also known as Public Act 453 of 1976, prohibits discrimination in the state of Michigan due to a person’s age, color, familial status, height, national origin, race, religion, sex, or weight, in situations involving access to public accommodation, education, employment, or housing.

Important Legal Decisions That Might Influence the Decision

For many years, Equality Michigan has been a vocal proponent of expanding the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The group argues that an increasing number of federal laws and court decisions have expanded the application of protections available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in 2012 that transgender job discrimination is one type of sex discrimination under Title VII. Michigan’s 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has twice equated sex discrimination with gender identity. Earlier in 2017, however, the Department of Justice separated from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in an appeals court case by arguing that Title VII does not protect against sexual orientation discrimination.

The History of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission

The commission was created due to Michigan’s 1963 constitution and is able to investigate potential discrimination based on a variety of factors. A group of House and Senate representatives, however, have argued that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission lacks the authority to apply existing anti-discrimination protections to individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual. This group argues that the agency’s request avoids forcing legislators to decide issues about this law.

Brief Filed by Legislators

A brief has been filed on behalf of the legislators who argue that state law only allows the commission to make recommendations to the governor. The commission most recently released an interpretive statement in 2012 clarifying a state law that governed sign language interpreters.

The Goal of the Universal Life Church’s Blog

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission initially tabled the request in September after intervention by the state Attorney General’s office, but they met again on November 13th after 30 lawyers and law professors sent a letter to the commission to counter arguments made by the Attorney General. Despite the more than 300 public comments, petitions from dozens of organizations, and two hearings, the Commission once again tabled a decision on whether to stand up for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals at this recent meeting. The Universal Life Church’s blog aims to keep its readers informed about this ever-changing legal landscape.

(image courtesy of Peter Hershey)

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