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Michigan Attorney General says state civil rights commission can do LGBTQ discrimination investigations

Michigan State Capitol (Image by Jason Gillman from Pixabay)

LANSING — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Tuesday told the state civil rights commission that it wasn’t bound by restrictions imposed by the previous Attorney General preventing inclusion of the LGBTQ community. 

In 2018, former AG Bill Schuette said that Michigan’s civil rights law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. 

According to a press release from the AG’s office, Civil Rights Commission Chair Alma Wheeler Smith had submitted an opinion request to reconsider Schuette’s opinion.

Nessel did not issue a formal opinion. However, the office did provide informal guidance saying the commission did not need to follow the old opinion. 

From the AG office’s statement:

Acknowledging the office’s longstanding policy not to issue a formal opinion “with respect to issues that are pending in, or likely to become the subject of, litigation,” Sonneborn noted that, after the Commission sought Nessel’s opinion, the United States Supreme Court decided on April 22, 2019 to review a case involving a Michigan funeral home employer’s actions, RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes, Inc v Equal Employment Opportunity Comm, 139 S Ct 1599 (2019), and to consider whether the federal civil rights law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits gender-identity and sexual-orientation discrimination.

This circumstance, Sonneborn concluded, “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.”

Sonneborn also provided assurance to the Commission on behalf of Nessel that her office “will provide the Commission with appropriate legal support and representation” in the same way that the Attorney General and her staff has always represented the state and its agencies and public officials.”

Nessel had said in February, not long after being sworn in, that the state’s civil rights law did cover the LGBTQ community. Nessel is the first out lesbian Attorney General for Michigan.

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