Nessel declines to offer opinion on Elliott-Larsen due to SCOTUS case

By: - June 18, 2019 3:19 pm

Michigan Pride, June 15, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office announced Thursday that it won’t offer a new opinion on one issued by former Attorney General Bill Schuette that says the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act does not protect LGBTQ people.

Attorney General Dana Nessel at Michigan Pride | Susan J. Demas

Nessel’s chief legal counsel, Suzanne Sonneborn, responded in a letter to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s request to review that opinion, saying Nessel’s office believes Schuette’s interpretation was incorrect.

She added, however, that due to a pending U.S. Supreme Court case, neither the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) or the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) are bound by it.

The Supreme Court announced in April that it would weigh in on three cases in which federal anti-discrimination laws have been tested with regard to whether they extend to LGBTQ people, one of which was originally filed in Michigan. Sonneborn cited the precedent of the attorney general traditionally not weighing in on issues that are pending litigation.

She wrote in the letter that the Supreme Court’s decision to take up a Michigan case as part of the aforementioned trio “raises a question of federal law which was contemplated in OAG No. 7305 and Michigan courts in considering the issue” and therefore “the Commission is not bound by OAG No. 7305.”

The Michigan-based case is RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes, Inc v Equal Employment Opportunity Comm., filed by a transgender woman in the Detroit area after she alleged she was fired because of her transition.

In Thursday’s statement, Nessel said she “[urges] the Commission to continue its important mission to investigate allegations of unlawful discrimination and to secure the equal protection of civil rights without such discrimination.”

MDCR Executive Director Agustin Arbulu listens to Attorney General Dana Nessel | Ken Coleman

She also announced she would be filing an amicus brief in the Harris case supporting the opinion that federal law protects LGBTQ people from discrimination, saying, “The residents of our great state deserve nothing less.”

MDCR Director Agustin Arbulu said in a statement Thursday that the decision “points once again to the need for the Legislature to amend Elliott-Larsen to assure all individuals in Michigan are protected from discrimination.

“In the meantime, the Department will continue to accept and investigate complaints based on discrimination on account of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

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Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson

Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.