The attorney for two women who were denied entry to an Orlando strip club in 2018 because they weren’t with a man said on Friday he plans to bring their case again before the Florida Supreme Court, because the question is more than who can have fun at a gentlemen’s club.
At issue is whether local governments can enact anti-discrimination ordinances that offer more protections than Florida’s civil rights law, said Matthew Dietz, a Miami attorney who represents Brittney Smith and Anita Yanes.
“We think this issue is so important,” Dietz said. “We live in a time when these rights are restricted.”
Dietz made the comments just hours after Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals on Friday declined to rehear the case following its March ruling that part of the human rights order of Orange County was unconstitutional as it is preempted by the Florida Civil Rights Act.
Appeals Court Judge John Harris, however, confirmed that whether all non-discrimination cases must be filed through the state or whether local governments are permitted to enact such orders beyond state law is “of great public importance.” Judges Mary Alice Nardella and Carrie Ann Wozniak agreed.
That likely gives the Smiths and Yanes the chance to have their case heard by the state Supreme Court, Dietz said, even though the High Court declined to hear the case nearly two years ago.
“The case will move forward and the Florida Supreme Court will decide whether Florida civil rights law prevails over local anti-discrimination ordinances,” Dietz said. “For the past 50 years, Florida counties and municipalities have passed anti-discrimination ordinances that protect the citizens of their counties and cities. … Until today, these ordinances were valid.”
Steve Mason, an Altamonte Springs attorney representing Rachel, said Orange County overstepped its authority because local governments couldn’t issue ordinances contrary to state law. He looks forward to arguing the case in the Supreme Court.
“These people are bigots and they are extremists,” Mason said of the Orange County leaders. “I can’t wait to go to Tallahassee because I’m going to tear them up. …These people, they know the law, and they know what they’re doing is wrong. And I can’t wait to meet them in court .
The women filed their first complaint of 2018 against Rachel’s Orlando, a nightclub on South Orange Avenue, after being told at the front door by a manager that club policy does not allow women without men. The club says its the policy is to prevent prostitution, to avoid distracting men by watching dancers, and to prevent domestic incidents.
The women said they wanted to go to Rachel’s to see a dancer who looked like Yanes.
In a February 2018 video of the incident, Smith and Yanes are seen telling a manager of Rachel’s just after 10 p.m. that they enjoy watching women dance and would tip dancers. They didn’t understand why they wouldn’t be allowed into the club and called it discrimination.
“These are club rules. It’s club policy. That’s it,” the manager tells the women. “We’ve had women come here and try to get their husbands out of here. “
The two sued Rachel’s, claiming its policy violated the Orange County Human Rights Ordinance, which protects against discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations, but not for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people.
Eventually, more than 20 local governments across Florida — including Orange County and the cities of Orlando and Mascot — as well as the ACLU of Florida and the Florida League of Women Voters, joined the case. women.
The lawsuit took several legal twists and turns. An Orange County judge on the first side with Rachel, ruling that Orange’s order was preempted by state law. But the Fifth District Court of Appeals returned the case to the circuit court, saying Orange County should have been part of the lawsuit.
In April 2021, Circuit Judge Jeff Ashton ruled that the county’s order did not conflict with Florida civil rights law.
Rachel’s then appealed Ashton’s decision and won last March, with judges ruling Orange’s order partially unconstitutional.
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Under Florida law, complainants alleging discrimination must first have their case reviewed by the Florida Human Relations Commission before they can file a lawsuit in court. The commission has 180 days to investigate.
Most local anti-discrimination ordinances, including those in Orange County, allow a person to go straight to court and get “immediate relief” rather than waiting the 180 days, Dietz said.
“You shouldn’t have to wait 180 days,” Dietz said. “And the discrimination can continue during that time.”
Dietz noted that Orange’s ordinance includes more classes protected from discrimination than state law, including sexual orientation.
“Counties are now not allowed to do anything more than what Florida mandates,” regarding discrimination, Dietz said.
Mason said Rachel’s changed its policy and allowed unaccompanied women into its club since 2018, shortly after the complaint was filed.