Stranger thing: Judge blocks workplace training portion of ‘Stop WOKE Act’
Ron DeSantis. Image via AP.

Ron DeSantis woke
'If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case,' Walker wrote in his ruling.

A federal judge flayed a measure supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis, likening the court’s decision to Eleven, the kinetic teen seeking to save her hometown from supernatural forces in the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

In his ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker compared Florida to a “new upside down” — an alternate universe populated by demons and monsters in the blockbuster show — in a ruling stopping enforcement of a new law, dubbed the “Stop WOKE Act” by DeSantis and its supporters.

Walker issued a preliminary injunction Thursday on a portion of the new law that deals with workforce training, citing First Amendment concerns. The measure (HB 7) prohibits school lessons and workplace training that teach inherent bias and ideas related to critical race theory, although it does directly not mention the concept by name. The ruling favors the three businesses that brought the case.

The 44-page document was loaded with legalese and citations to support Walker’s ruling, but kicked off with a riff on the alternate dimension.

“Normally, the First Amendment bars the state from burdening speech, while private actors may burden speech freely. But in Florida, the First Amendment apparently bars private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely,” he wrote. “Now, like the heroine in “Stranger Things,” this Court is once again asked to pull Florida back from the upside down.”

The workplace training portion of the law prohibits eight listed race-related concepts, which Walker calls “a naked viewpoint-based regulation on speech that does not pass strict scrutiny.”

“If Florida truly believes we live in a post-racial society, then let it make its case,” Walker wrote in his ruling. “But it cannot win the argument by muzzling its opponents. Because, without justification, the (law) attacks ideas.”

Walker illustrates two scenarios to show the potential overreach of the law, which defendants insisted “does nothing more than ban race discrimination in employment.” Walker writes that the defense “makes hollow” truly discriminatory, hostile work environments by equating such experiences with diversity trainings, “trivializing the freedom protected” by Title VII to “suggest that the two are the same.”

“Telling your employees that concepts such as ‘normal’ or ‘professional’ are imbued with historically based racial biases is not — and it pains this Court to have to say this — the same as trapping Black employees in a room while a woman in a gorilla suit puts on a retaliatory, racially inflammatory performance the day before a holiday celebrating the end of slavery. Rather, it is speech protected by the First Amendment,” Walker wrote.

The plaintiffs of the lawsuit include Primo Tampa, LLC, a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream franchisee; Honeyfund.com, Inc., a Clearwater-based wedding registry tech company; and Chevara Orrin and her company, Collective Concepts, LLC, which provides diversity, equity and inclusion training to employers.

The ruling comes as educators challenge the school-related portion of the act, which provides strict provisions on how race-related concepts can be taught in schools. A group of university professors and a university student also filed a federal lawsuit challenging the legislation on Thursday. 

Critics, mainly Democrats, have argued the legislation amounts to censoring teachers and businesses that are trying to stamp out intolerance, hate and ignorance. They also contend it will chill the speech of educators teaching about African American history, LGBTQ history and more.

In response to the ruling, the Florida For All coalition issued a statement saying:  “Once again, Gov. DeSantis’ blatant attacks on the First Amendment have been ruled unconstitutional in court. Every Floridian deserves the freedom to work hard and provide for their families without facing discrimination and harassment because of who they are, where they come from, or what they look like.”

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]


27 comments

  • Joe Corsin

    August 18, 2022 at 5:44 pm

    Huge win against fascism, far right lies, and conservative Republican chicanery.

  • Clare Gray-Bayne

    August 18, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    I do not understand why Gov. DuhSantis wants to prevent schools, universities and businesses from teaching folks how to treat other people, including those who are different from us, with kindness, dignity and respect. The “Stop Woke Act” makes no sense to me. Why does the Governor think that being kind is a problem? Why does he think there’s something wrong with helping to make workplaces and schools kinder and healthier places? Why does he think that trying to make people more aware of sensitive ways to handle human interactions in both professional and personal settings should make people feel guilty? I flat out do not understand this attitude. It seems to be based on a cavalier, selfish way of dealing with people who are different from us. I was brought up to treat my neighbor as myself. The “Stop Woke Act” is just culture wars at their worst, and

  • Brass Biscuit

    August 18, 2022 at 7:24 pm

    DeSantis’ culture war has been dealt a setback. The “Why Can’t It Be The 50’s Again?” cause will have to find other straw men to heroically chase around in public, the Governor’s whining exhortations inspiring them to greater embarrassment.

  • Paul

    August 18, 2022 at 8:00 pm

    Teachers, it is not your job to ‘stamp out’ anything. Teach reading, writing and arithmetic, and our kids will be better off.

  • Julia

    August 18, 2022 at 8:36 pm

    A classic case of judge shopping. These lawsuits are all filed in Tallahassee because the plaintiffs know there is a 2/3 chance that the case will wind up before Walker or Hinkle. Don’t know about this portion of the lawsuit, but the 11th circuit is likely to stay Walker’s ruling on educators. If you work for the government as a public university prof, you are representing the govt. and it therefore has the right to control what you say in its name. It reminds of the case of the Sons of Confederate veterans who wanted a vanity license plate in Virginia. The Supreme Court ruled that the license plate program represented govt. speech and therefore the govt had the right not to endorse it by refusing to make the license plate.

    • Elliott Offen

      August 18, 2022 at 8:55 pm

      People don’t work in the University to prop up right wing lies by omission. Maybe in Afghanistan or Iran this is not the case…but to tell you the truth both of those countries make more sense than USA at least in some respects now thanks to the conservative nutters recent behavior.

    • marylou

      August 18, 2022 at 9:49 pm

      If the educators chant some kind of superstitious nonsense while they’re teaching, they can say whatever they want at a public school.

      SCOTUS has ruled that some nutcase coach can pressure high schoolers to join him on the 50 yard line in his loud prayer show during football games, with cameras, politicians, and parents—who are complaining about the performances. Ironically, the blasphemer was no doubt praying to JC, who had already told him to go to his room and shut the door if he wants to talk to his god.

      • Elliott Offen

        August 18, 2022 at 10:12 pm

        Also Jesus fed the 5,000 but the Republicans don’t wanna feed anyone but the rich. Speaking of rich.. Bible says it is more likely that a camel would fit through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter heaven…yet they elected a billionaire atheist. Finally Bible says “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” (taxes) yet they complain about paying taxes more than anything. I could go on and on but according to the Bible… most of these idiots would burn in hell if there was auch a place.😆

      • Julia

        August 19, 2022 at 7:15 am

        I hate to tell you but speech codes exist at public universities, particularly if you are anti-woke, as the incident at UCF demonstrates. Which is why this law is needed. Walker wants to redefine words like “normal” or “professional” to mean “racist” just like a lot of these profs and it demonstrates what a whack job he is.

        • marylou

          August 19, 2022 at 2:22 pm

          An incident at UCF resulted in a court ruling that there is a “grave peril posed by a policy that effectively polices adherence to intellectual dogma” as it “objectively chills speech”. That’s what the Stop WOKE Act does. It forces students and educators to comply with official government dogma. Free Speech isn’t just for Ron!
          No need to use euphemisms like anti-woke, just come right on out and say ignorant bigot—- less catchy but more honest

    • Arm The Homeless

      August 18, 2022 at 10:27 pm

      Nah, it’s a pretty blatant inversion of the 1A.

      If this were to stand and the precedent set that your government can prohibit speech based on someone feeling discomfort, you’ve just legalized Hate Speech codes, which is going to snare quite a few of the aNtI-wOkE crowd.

    • SteveHC

      August 18, 2022 at 11:30 pm

      You are *factually* WRONG. Professional educators employed within our state colleges and universities do NOT do so as representatives of the State of Florida NOR its government! They are hired SPECIFICALLY to teach students specific academic and/or vocational subjects, as well as to conduct academic and professional research – INCLUDING in the sociological and psychological areas, among others, to do these things at the highest level of professionalism as is possible, AND to perform these duties in a manner that reflects BLINDNESS to current politics, cultural whims and religious beliefs. Those are the FACTS. The book banners and burners – even those such as DeSantis, who once “proudly” graduated from the internationally highly-regarded “woke” schools of the Northeastern U.S. but who now deliberately choose to NOT publicize such facts of their own educational histories as they seek to attract the largest number of votes to themselves by presenting themselves as “attractive” to the lowest common denominators – are accomplishing nothing more than BLOCKING advancement of Floridian society and culture as well as genuine scientific thought, research and development. Their asinine political shenanigans actually encourage the greatest organizations dedicated to the continued advancement of humanity to LOOK ELSEWHERE when deciding where to plant their roots. The state is not consistently referred to as “Flori-DUH” for no particular reason…

    • Claude Kirk the younger

      August 19, 2022 at 9:39 am

      So true Julia, whats funny is to watch leftists with their child like brains celebrate Walker’ rulling in this case, and that clown in a robe Hinkle’s rullings in other cases as leftist victorys.
      Its a delay only, anyone who thinks Desantis and The Honorable Florida Legislature which passed the law, did not know 100% that this clown show AKA the Walker/Hinkle delay would not happen is just a leftist tool.
      The process will continue, real honest Honorable Judges will quash every such Walker/Hinkle rulling and the peoples business will go forth unimpeded.
      That gentle readers in a nutshell is how politics is “done” in the Great State of Florida. Leftist Victory? Oh #ell no. Expected leftist delay? Exactly!

    • Mr. Haney

      August 27, 2022 at 5:41 pm

      “If you work for the government as a public university prof, you are representing the govt. and it therefore has the right to control what you say in its name.”

      Nyet comrade.

      • tjb

        August 28, 2022 at 4:27 pm

        I guess the First Amendment is now eliminated from the USA Constitution according to Mr. Haney.

  • Arm The Homeless

    August 18, 2022 at 10:21 pm

    MAGA should be thanking this judge. Just imagine what the states and Feds could do with a precedent that allows your government to write laws against hurting folks’ tender fee-fees.

    Those Hate Speech laws won’t be kind to the aNtI-wOkE

  • PeterH

    August 18, 2022 at 10:23 pm

    Let’s return Florida to 1940!

    The intention of DeSantis’s “anti-woke” policy push is to relegate women to the kitchen and housekeeping…..regardless if families can’t survive without both parents working.

    Implement hate in the classroom where trans and gay children must cower in fear from bullying teachers and fellow classmates.

    Force Florida State pension fund to invest in gun manufacturers so they can provide less expensive weapons to kill Florida’s children.

    Vote all Republicans out of office.

  • SteveHC

    August 18, 2022 at 11:45 pm

    Floridian government attempts to restrict what private businesses can or cannot instruct their employees on are NOT merely attempts to curtail 1st Ammendment rights. On-the-job training is designed SPECIFICALLY to teach employees new, advanced skills that will ultimately help them to become as productive and otherwise useful to their organizations’ efforts to achieve maximum profits through meeting society’s needs as is possible. Consequently such government actions are in fact un-America in the largest sense in that they are anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, and pro-fascist. Thus they are in fact a grave danger to ALL of us.

    • Julia

      August 19, 2022 at 7:27 am

      This diversity training has nothing to do with learning new skills, or technology. It has everything to do with convincing one subset of the population that it is racist because of its skin color, which as the state argues, makes the training itself racist.

      • Mr. Haney

        August 27, 2022 at 5:43 pm

        Wrong again comrade.

  • Jerry

    August 19, 2022 at 9:58 am

    Not so sure this is the victory Dems want. Basically the judge’s comments could be interpreted as any private organization has the first amendment rights to teach what they want. That means they could teach openly racist speech….not just CRT diversity training.

    If you are going to use the first amendment to allow CRT, then the broad interpretation is going to open it up to other forms of racism too. In other words you cant allow one form of racism and not another.

    • Julia

      August 19, 2022 at 10:05 am

      Finally, another sensible comment on this post.

    • Arm The Homeless

      August 19, 2022 at 4:25 pm

      This is a fantasy you’ve created.

      Private business can say what they want to their workers, they just can’t refuse service based on protected classes.

      The employees can sue for a toxic work environment, and would probably win.

      This has been established law for decades. Read a book or something.

      • Mr. Haney

        August 27, 2022 at 5:44 pm

        kudos

    • tjb

      August 28, 2022 at 4:35 pm

      I really wonder if those who oppose CRT classes have ever reviewed or studied the CRT curriculum.
      If you are anti CRT classes, please let me know the 5 tenets of CRT.

  • RUSSELL Chartier

    August 21, 2022 at 10:53 am

    Not sure when Republicans decided that it was alright to try to dictate what happens in private business. Capitalism is a principal that I, and I thought, most Republicans held dear.

  • JoAnne

    August 30, 2022 at 8:37 am

    Sorry but most of these commenters have no experience with wokeness in the workplace. My last job expected me to apologize for being white and an American as documented. It was a company funded with tax dollars.

Comments are closed.


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