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Florida’s Race ‘Guilt’ Training Ban Challenged in Federal Court

April 22, 2022, 9:59 PM

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ effort to block what he calls “corporate wokeness” was challenged in federal court Friday, immediately after he signed a new state law banning workplace training that teaches people they should feel guilty about their race or sex.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida shortly after DeSantis, a Republican, signed the legislation (H.B. 7), which also applies to public school lessons.

The plaintiffs include three teachers, a consulting firm that provides implicit bias training to law firms and other entities, and a young child enrolling in kindergarten this summer.

The state’s ban on instruction on critical race theory isn’t “narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest,” and it’s “explicitly designed to target and suppress ideas with which GOP lawmakers disagree,” the lawsuit said.

“These broad principles are subject to various interpretations and allow the State to arbitrarily decide what speech is prohibited and what speech is permitted,” the lawsuit said.

Training that endorses certain concepts related to racism, sexism, privilege, and merit-based advancement—such as individuals “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” because of past actions by other people of the same race or sex—“constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin,” according to the legislation.

If discrimination claims filed under Florida’s Civil Rights Act make it to court, an employee potentially could win back pay and compensatory damages, plus punitive damages not to exceed $100,000.

“What we will not do is let people distort history to try to serve their current ideological goals,” DeSantis told a crowd in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., before signing the bill.

“Unfortunately, you’ve seen employees, mostly working for major Fortune 500 companies, that get subjected to this same type of ideology in the guise of workforce training,” he said.

Causes of Action: Violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Relief: Declaration of unconstitutionality, injunction barring enforcement of law, attorneys’ fees, and expenses.

Attorneys: The plaintiffs are represented by Sheppard, White, Kachergus, DeMaggio & Wilkison PA.

The case is Falls v. DeSantis, N.D. Fla., No. 4:22-cv-166, 4/22/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com