Michigan civil rights board says state law prohibits LGBT discrimination


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Michigan’s current ban on sex discrimination extends to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the state’s civil rights commission has found.

The commission voted 5-0 on the interpretation today in a move the director of law and policy for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights describes as “opening the door to the hall of justice.”

“It basically directs the civil rights department to take complaints [based on sexual orientation or gender identity] and it lets people who are landlords or employers know that they will be subject to an investigation and if we find discrimination based on these things we will take them to a hearing,” says Dan Levy. “It doesn't necessarily mean that we will win a hearing — that's when the courts will ultimately end up deciding the issue.”

The request for the interpretive statement came from LGBT rights group Equality Michigan after a federal appeals court ruled in favor of a trans woman who said she was illegally fired by a funeral home in Garden City. The group first submitted the request last July, but it was twice tabled after Attorney General Bill Schuette's office said the commission didn't have the authority to make the decision.

Monday’s motion was introduced by Alma Wheeler Smith, the lone Democrat on the commission. Wheeler Smith was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder in February.

Independents Rasha Demashkieh, Mumtaz Haque, Stacie Clayton, and Republican Laura Reyes Kopack voted yes on the extended protections. Republican Ira Combs abstained from the vote and Republicans Ricardo Resio and Jeffrey Sakwa were absent.

But according to the Associated Press, the issue may not be settled. The wire service reports that a conservative legal group representing 10 Republican lawmakers opposed the interpretation, noting that the legislature has rejected adding additional classifications to Michigan's civil rights law on almost a dozen occasions over the past 20 years.

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