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US How 2 women’s trip to a Florida strip club sparked a constitutional bout in court

17:25  09 december  2019
17:25  09 december  2019 Source:   msn.com

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On her weekly trips to an Orlando strip club, Brittney Smith noticed that one of the dancers looked familiar.

a store sign hanging off the side of a building© Stephen M. Dowell

The exotic dancer, who the Orlando woman had noticed on regular stops there with a male friend, looked much like her friend Anita Yanes. So when Yanes came to visit from Alabama, Smith thought it’d be fun for the two friends to go to Rachel’s Orlando to see the doppelganger.

However, the two were denied entry to the club, told by both a hostess and a manager that it was against policy to allow women in without men to prevent domestic incidents, prostitution and distractions for their male clientele.

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That incident at an Orlando strip club — billed as a “World Class Men’s Club & Steak House" — set off a chain of events and legal actions that now has cities and counties all over Florida worried about the future of their civil-rights laws.

Smith and Yanes filed suit against the club accusing it of violating Orange County’s human-rights ordinance, which protects against discrimination for a host of factors including gender, sexual orientation and nationality.

A judge rejected the women’s claim. But in doing so, Circuit Judge Keith Carsten sparked a constitutional battle that has more than 40 cities and counties fearing their anti-discrimination ordinances could be nullified.

Carsten sided with Rachel’s that Orange County’s ordinance was preempted by the state’s anti-discrimination law.

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Tip: Call the strip club or check their website ahead of time to see if they have a dress code. Some strip clubs will have a private parking lot that is monitored by security. If you’re going to a strip club at night, make sure you A strip club is a place where women take off their clothes and dance for tips.

American hip-hop queen and former stripper Cardi B is currently in the middle of her first-ever trip to Africa, where she is expected to give several concerts Netizens couldn’t help but point out that a strip club wasn’t a suprising choice for the hip-hop queen, as Cardi B has always been open about having

The ruling could void 46 local protection measures like Orange County’s, preventing local governments from barring discrimination, Robert Rosenwald, a city attorney for Miami Beach.

“At its most broad, the ruling stands for the proposition that local governments can’t prohibit discrimination at all,” Rosenwald said. “It could be incredibly damaging to municipalities around the state.”

So Smith and Yanes appealed — now with backing from cities and counties, as well as groups like Equality Florida — in hopes of overturning the case and allowing it to move forward in circuit court.

Essentially, local governments are arguing for the rights of women to enter strip clubs without men.

In Orlando, the City Council is due to decide Monday whether to join Orange County, Miami-Beach and at least a dozen other cities in filing amicus briefs with an appeals court to overturn Carsten’s ruling. The Lake County city of Mascotte already has done so.

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Steven Mason, an attorney representing Rachel’s, said Carsten got it right and said this week in an email the case is of “crucial constitutional importance.”

“My thought, my opinion, is that the left-leaning cities and counties in our state are opposed to the legislation promulgated by the Republican-dominated Florida legislature, thus they are attempting to gut state law,” Mason said in an email. “Yes, this case is of crucial constitutional importance and I understand why certain cities and counties across the state are in a panic that their anti-discrimination codes may be invalidated.”

“I hope that they are; they are unconstitutional.”

Equality Florida credited local laws for covering about 60% of Floridians with nondiscrimination laws and said the protections are “vital to LGBTQ Floridians.”

“Precedent is clear, and it’s on our side," said Jon Harris Maurer, public policy director for the group. "For decades, Florida Supreme Court case law has established that local governments are well within their authority to enact nondiscrimination ordinances.”

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Matthew Dietz, an attorney for the nonprofit Disability Independence Group in Miami, is representing Smith and Yanes. He said he’s hopeful the appeals court will rule that state and federal discrimination laws set the floor for protection and that localities can offer further protection.

In a brief filed this week, he said Rachel’s Orlando’s rule plays into stereotypes.

“This baseless exclusion is the exact type of discrimination the ordinance was designed to eradicate,” Dietz wrote.

In a January court hearing to dismiss the suit, Mason argued that strip clubs like Rachel’s developed such policies as a means of self-preservation, out of fears that if prostitution occurred on their premises — even if club employees weren’t involved — it could allow for governments to shut them down.

“They don’t want a woman walking around that bar talking to the male customers, going up to the bar, and then when an exchange occurs, the liability is imputed to them even though they had no involvement in it,” Mason argued to Karsten. “So whether you agree with that or…disagree with that….I just want you to have a feel for this is a very serious significant case that could have implications across the country. And we’re going to fight to the death to protect this bar.”

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In Orlando, assistant city attorney Jody Litchford said if its ordinance is tossed out, the fallout could include changes to its human relations office, in existence for decades.

The office often investigates local discrimination complaints on behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“We have the ability to just resolve things [sometimes],” Litchford said. “Because we’re local we’re able to get in the middle of the situation and resolve them.”

Orange County didn’t intervene in the circuit court lawsuit and declined to comment for this story citing pending litigation. However, the county is expected to file a brief in the appeal.

In Carsten’s ruling, he cited state law that sets up a system for discrimination complaints to be reviewed by a commission to determine if there is “reasonable cause” prior to a lawsuit being filed. In doing so, the state implied a preemption on any local discrimination measures, he determined.

“When reviewing [Florida statutes] it becomes clear the legislature crafted a comprehensive scheme in which a person can seek relief from unlawful discrimination,” Carsten wrote.

Rosenwald, the Miami-Beach attorney, said the ruling doesn’t gel with precedent, and he thinks an appeals court will side with cities and counties, and in turn, Smith and Yanes.

“If this court follows the law it should be a simple and short ruling,” Rosenwald said. “However, the courts in this state have changed politically in the last year or so.”

“The danger is that the new judiciary, including the new Florida Supreme Court, might want to rule differently.”

Litchford contended Orlando isn’t preempted from crafting its own discrimination policies, which the city believes are best handled locally.

“We think there’s no preemption,” she said. “We believe if the legislature wanted to expressly preempt in this field, they would — and they know how to do it.”

Have a news tip? You can call Ryan at 407-420-5002, email him at rygillespie@orlandosentinel.com, follow him on Twitter @byryangillespie and like his coverage on Facebook @byryangillespie.

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