Judge blocks Florida from enforcing ‘stop-wake law’ on private employers – The Washington Post


FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – A federal judge Thursday blocked Florida from enforcing a new state law that limits how private companies can teach diversity and inclusion in the workplace, saying the measure would violate The right of the First Amendment to the US Constitution to freedom of speech and expression.

In a ruling targeting one of Governor Ron DeSantis’ priorities, US District Judge Mark E. Walker said Florida has turned the “First Amendment on its head” by trying to regulate how employers train employees on topics such as racial inclusion and gender equality.

“Usually, the First Amendment forbids the state from overburdening speech, while private actors may freely burden speech,” Walker wrote, comparing the state to the television series Stranger Things. “But in Florida, the First Amendment obviously prevents private actors from burdening speech, while the state may burden speech freely.”

Walker’s ruling prevents Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (right) and state regulators from enforcing a key requirement of the Stop Wake Act, which is controlled by Republicans. Approved in March. DeSantis, a potential presidential candidate in 2024, often promotes the measure during political speeches to conservative audiences.

Spokespeople for DeSantis and Moody did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The “Stop Woke Act,” also referred to in court filings as the “Individual Freedom Scale,” prohibits exercises in schools, colleges, public universities and workplaces that might make someone feel guilty or ashamed of their race’s past group actions. or sex. Violating this act is a crime under the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

With students returning to the classroom, the law is already there far-reaching consequences, With teachers putting some lesson plans on hold amid great confusion over how to implement them. In July, University of Central Florida until removed Statements denouncing racism from some websites that faculty members believe are in response to the law.

The injunction, issued by Walker in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee, only prevents enforcement of provisions of the law dealing with training provided by private employers.

But several other legal challenges have been filed against other provisions of the law, including a lawsuit Thursday brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Presented on behalf of 10 university professors. The lawsuit, also filed in federal court, seeks to prevent Florida from restricting the way colleges and universities offer lessons about race, gender and the legacy of discrimination.

The lawsuit that ruled Walker was filed Thursday by two Florida-based companies, Honeyfund.com and Primo, as well as an individual and a consulting firm that conducts various corporate trainings across the state.

Honeyfund.com, based in Clearwater, Florida, is the online wedding registry. Primo is a franchise of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, with stores in Clearwater and Tampa.

Honeyfund.com argued in court that it was concerned that the new law would prevent them from holding a seminar for employees that would include “Advancing Women in Business, Understanding Gender Expansion” and “Understanding Institutional Racism.” Primo planned to teach its employees about “systemic racism, oppression, and intersectionality.”

In an unusually directed opinion, Walker shattered many of Florida’s defenses of the “stop-wake law.” In addition to ruling that the law was a clear violation of the First Amendment, Walker also said it violated the 14th Amendment plaintiff’s right to due process.

“It was a very strong decision and it was made very clear, it is a very flagrant violation of the constitution,” said lead attorney for the defendants, Shalini Agarwal, who also works with the nonpartisan group Protecting Democracy.

At the origin of the 44-page decision are Walker’s suspicions that the state of Florida should decide what employees might find objectionable. He said the state has vague interpretations of the law’s eight provisions, including those that address what might make a person feel uncomfortable or distressed in the workplace.

Walker noted that “even the slightest endorsement of any of the eight concepts in any required employment activity would violate the law.” “The [Individual Freedom Measure] It does not require any evidence that the statement is personally offensive. Nor does the IFA require the statement to create a severely hostile or widespread business environment.”

“Thus, the IFA, by design,” Walker added, “provides no shelter for essential protected speech.”

At one point, Walker suggested that the law appeared to be an attempt by Florida lawmakers to silence the voices of those who might challenge lawmakers’ own views about the nation’s diversity.

“If Florida really believes that we live in a post-race society, let him make his case,” Walker wrote. “But she cannot win the argument by muzzling her opponents.”

The first section of the law limits lessons and exercises to the notion that “members of race, colour, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of race, colour, sex, or national origin.” Walker said the ruling was “overwhelmed with ambiguity.”

“Imagine an employer, during a mandatory seminar on dispute resolution, cites civil disobedience represented by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as a peaceful and preferred approach,” Walker wrote. Do you ‘instill’ the employer Employees with the belief that blacks and Asians are morally superior to whites? “

Walker denounced another provision of the law, saying it was “close to a lack of understanding.” The ruling states:[m]Embers cannot be of race, colour, gender, or national origin and should not attempt to treat others without respect for race, colour, gender or national origin.”

“It is not clear what is forbidden, and even less clear what is permitted,” Walker wrote.

Agarwal said the state must now decide whether to seek a district court trial to try to reverse Walker’s injunction. The state can also appeal his ruling to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal. Florida could also drop its legal defense on the matter.

Although Walker’s ruling does not apply to law enforcement in public schools or colleges, Agarwal and other attorneys have said they believe all sections of the procedure have a shaky legal basis.

In its lawsuit, ACLU lawyers argued that the law was prevented from entering into force in colleges and universities, that the law Vague jargon and a special enforcement mechanism stifle speech and expression, including narrowing rhetoric on campus and destroying academic freedom.

“Stop WOKE attempts to censor discussions and erase the history and lives of black people, LGBTI people, women and other people of color who struggle daily to achieve racial justice and bring about positive change,” said Leroy Burnell. “We deserve to have a free and open exchange about racism in the classroom,” the plaintiff in the lawsuit who teaches law at Florida A&M University.

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