Apple, Verizon, Whirlpool Push Michigan LGBT Rights Referendum

Jan. 7, 2020, 10:48 PM

Corporate leaders of Apple Inc., Verizon Communications, and Whirlpool Corp. are pushing for permanent legal protections for LGBT Michiganders that the state’s legislature has rebuffed for decades.

The companies are part of a corporate and activist collaboration seeking to expand state anti-discrimination law to cover a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation through a citizen referendum on the November 2020 ballot. They announced Jan. 7 that they are filing paperwork with the Michigan Secretary of State to begin the process of collecting at least 340,047 valid signatures before May 27, 2020.

The state currently has in place tenuous protections for LGBT workers through a reinterpretation of state anti-discrimination law by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. The agency was the first state commission to unilaterally reinterpret the law in this way, sidestepping the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

While current Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) supports the agency’s action, conservative groups and the state’s former Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) have called that reinterpretation unconstitutional. That means a change in leadership at the commission and attorney general’s office could narrow or eliminate the current protections.

If the group collects sufficient signatures, the Michigan legislature would have the ability to adopt the referendum before it goes to voters. However, adoption prior to any referendum is unlikely because the change is opposed by Speaker Lee Chatfield (R).

The push comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on a trio of cases dealing with whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender employees from discrimination. However, the high court’s decision likely won’t be the last word on the issue because Title VII doesn’t apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employees, while Michigan’s law applies to employers of any size, covering every employee in the Wolverine State.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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