ORLANDO, Fla. — A lawsuit over women’s right to enter strip clubs unaccompanied by men is making Florida cities and counties worry about the future of their local civil rights laws. An Orlando-area strip club denied two Alabama women access because its policy required women to enter with men to prevent domestic incidents, prostitution and distractions of male clients, the Orlando Sentinel reports. The women sued, arguing Rachel’s club had violated the county’s human rights ordinance, which protects against discrimination on factors including gender.
Circuit Judge Keith Carsten sided with the club, ruling that the county’s ordinance was preempted by the state’s anti-discrimination law. The ruling perked the ears of localities across the state, concerned that it could nullify their own anti-discrimination ordinances. The women, with backing from cities, counties and activist groups like Equality Florida, have appealed Carsten’s ruling.
The Orlando City Council agreed Monday to join at least a dozen other cities in filing amicus briefs with an appeals court in the hopes of overturning Carsten’s ruling.
Carsten cited a state law that he determined preempts local measures. The state law sets up a system for discrimination complaints to be reviewed by a commission to determine if there is “reasonable cause” before a lawsuit is filed.
Backers of the local ordinances maintain that federal and state laws set the floor for protection and that local governments can offer further protection.
An attorney representing Rachel’s, Steven Mason, said the local ordinances violate the constitution.
“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,” Mason said in an email to the newspaper. “I hope that they are; they are unconstitutional.” The public policy director of Equality Florida disagrees. Jon Harris Maurer said Florida Supreme Court case law has established that local governments have the right to enact nondiscrimination ordinances.