Update: The Michigan Civil Rights Commission meeting for Monday, Jan. 28 at the Macomb Community College has been postponed due to the location being closed on account of expected inclement weather. The meeting has been rescheduled for Friday, Feb. 1 at 2 p.m. at the Detroit Offices of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Cadillac Place, 3054 West Grand Boulevard, Suite 3-600, in Detroit.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission will consider asking Attorney General Dana Nessel to review Attorney General Opinion 7305 during its meeting on Monday, Jan. 28 in Warren.
The Commission became the first of its kind in the nation in May 2018 to issue an interpretative statement that laws prohibiting sex discrimination – such as the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act – also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, housing and real estate as well as use of public accommodations and public service.
This conflicts with former Attorney General Bill Schuette’s opinion that state law “prohibits discrimination based on sex, but does not cover distinctions based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” Schuette said the Commission’s ruling is therefore “invalid.”
Yet the Commission ignored Schuette’s opinion and directed the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to continue accepting, reviewing and investigating complaints of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
“The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is an independent, constitutionally created and established body,” said Agustin Arbulu, director of the MDCR, in a previous statement. “The Commission is not bound by the opinion of the attorney general. The only recourse is for the courts to determine if issuing the interpretive statement was within the scope of the Commission’s authority, and that is the appropriate venue for resolving this issue. Until that time, the department will continue to carry out the directive of the Commission.”
MDCR is currently investigating 13 complaints. Of those under investigation, five are related to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or expression, and eight are related to claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Arbulu said, “With a new attorney general, it is important to know where she stands on the authority of the Commission as it was described by AG Opinion 7305. I am eager to hear the Commissioners discussions on this topic Monday during the Commission meeting and to their vote.”
If asked by the Commission where she stands, Nessel’s opinion should come as no surprise. She has made her position clear. When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive on Monday, Jan. 7 to strengthen prohibitions against LGBTQ discrimination in state employment, contracting and provision of services, Nessel issued a statement to the Detroit Free Press which said that “this action is deeply personal to me and I am grateful that Gov. Whitmer has made anti-discrimination one of her top priorities in her first several days in office. This is a step in the right direction and I am hopeful that soon our state laws will also reflect the paradigm of equal protection under the law for all Michiganders.”
For more information on the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, go to michigan.gov/mdcr.