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Despite LGBT+ court cases, supporters still up on Florida Competitive Workforce Act

The justices are hearing cases that could determine protection against discrimination.

The group Florida Competes is encouraging Floridians to support the Florida Competitive Workforce Act no matter the outcome of U.S. Supreme Court cases being heard Tuesday.

The proposed act would add workplace protections for LGBT+ workers to Florida law.

The court “will hear three cases related to LGBT+ employment discrimination that will determine if federal law protects LGBT+ people against discrimination,” said Florida Competes spokesperson Christina Johnson. “The court has the opportunity to affirm that all LGBT+ people should be able to work hard and support themselves and their families without fear of harassment or discrimination at work.

“Regardless of how the court rules, our elected leaders must pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act to ensure comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBT+ Floridians.”

One of the cases was filed by a transgender woman fired from her funeral home job after announcing she would undergo gender reassignment surgery to become a woman. She asks the court to consider whether gender identity is a protected form of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The plaintiff’s argument rests on whether the woman was actually discriminated against on the basis of sex, because she was fired after dressing and presenting as a woman, and whether her employer violated anti-discrimination laws for firing her on the basis of not wearing gender-conforming clothing.

The other two cases involve gay men who say they were fired after their employers found out their sexual orientation.

A ruling in favor of any of the cases would be a major win for LGBT+ workplace protection. But supporters worry a more conservative Supreme Court with two Trump appointees will go against the plaintiffs.

That, in part, is why a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers are trying to add protections at the state level.

“Florida businesses must remain competitive in the global marketplace,” Johnson added. “That is why the Florida Competes Coalition, comprised of 35 major employers, 11 Fortune 500 companies, along with more than 450 local businesses, strongly supports the Florida Competitive Workforce Act to not only be heard, but passed into law this session to ensure our economy thrives.

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“Florida businesses can only succeed if our workforce is as diverse as our state’s population.”

The 11 Fortune 500 companies include AT&T, CSX, Darden Restaurants, Marriott, NextEra Energy, Office Depot, Raymond James, Tech Data, Uber, Walt Disney World Resort and Wells Fargo.

Sen. Darryl Rouson is sponsoring the Florida Competitive Workforce Act in the Senate. Reps. Jackie Toledo, Jennifer Webb and Holly Raschein are sponsoring the measure in the House.

The proposal “will bring the Sunshine State into the 21st century by expanding local Human Rights Ordinances, which have already passed in 12 counties and 31 municipalities, representing 60 percent of Florida’s population,” Johnson said.

The House and Senate bills will be considered during the 2020 Legislative Session, which begins Jan. 14.

The same bill filed last year (SB 438) never made it past its first committee assignment. It was withdrawn from consideration in the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee.

An identical bill in the House (HB 1279) also died in its first committee stop. Both were indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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