'Expect a Lawsuit' on HB600, Attorney Says



UPDATE: Statement from Gov. Haslam added to the bottom.

Nashville-based attorney Abby Rubenfeld tells Pith that a lawsuit challenging HB600, the bill that prevents Tennessee cities from enacting nondiscrimination policies different from the state's, is in the works. Rubenfeld's comments come hours after Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill into law Monday afternoon.

"Yes, you can expect a lawsuit," Rubenfeld said. "We're working on it."

She wouldn't provide details but said a New York-based national firm would be assisting local attorneys in the suit. She also said they are finalizing plaintiffs and backers.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Glen Casada, was intended to nullify Nashville's recently passed nondiscrimination ordinance, which extends protections to LGBT employees of city contractors. The ordinance, co-sponsored by Metro Councilmen Jamie Hollin and Mike Jameson, essentially mirrored the city's policy for its own employees.

Haslam signed the bill into law despite strong objection from a variety of sources. LGBT supporters have called the bill discriminatory, as have a number of corporations with considerable Tennessee presence, including AT&T and FedEx. Those companies eventually saw through a thinly articulated argument from Casada and others on the far right that the Nashville law would somehow strain or inhibit business development in the state.

Earlier today, Haslam's press secretary told Pith that the governor was reviewing HB600, along with a number of other bills that passed this session. He hasn't responded to questions submitted via email after Pith learned that the governor had signed the bill.

Chris Sanders of the Tennessee Equality Project sent us this statement:

"We are disappointed that the majority in the General Assembly and the Governor have given their assent to SB632/HB600, which overturns a Metro non-discrimination ordinance, prevents any city or county in Tennessee from adopting a similar law, and redefines "sex" in the Tennessee code to the detriment of transgender people. You can't create jobs by allowing discrimination. And you can't say you're for smaller government when you take away the power of citizens to determine how their local tax dollars are used in government contracting. All Tennesseans deserve to be free of job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and we will continue to work toward that goal."

And finally, here's the text of an email from Deb Woolley, president and CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which decided to withdraw its support of the bill after Haslam had signed it into law:

From: Deb Woolley [mailto:deb.woolley@tnchamber.org]
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2011 06:01 PM Central Standard Time
Subject: HB600/SB632

As representatives of the 13 companies that have been targeted by the grassroots campaign opposing these bills, I wanted to make you aware that the Tennessee Chamber Executive Committee, at the request of some members, voted today to withdraw its support for the bill. While we continue to strongly support the principals of regulatory consistency across the state, we became exceedingly uncomfortable with the grassroots campaign that had re-framed the discussion to one about inclusiveness and diversity and, unfortunately, tried to label the Chamber and members such as you as supporting discrimination. We know, as you do, that companies such as yours have led the way with proactive and strong policies that are inclusive in supporting diversity.

The Governor has signed the bill, and I am sure there will be local news stories about it tomorrow. I know many of you are developing responses and statements, and I wanted to make you aware of the current status.

The statement adopted by the Executive Committee is as follows:

“The Tennessee Chamber supports a standard regulatory environment at the state level as opposed to potentially conflicting local regulations covering employment practices. That principle was the only interest the Chamber had in this bill. Because HB600/SB632 has turned into a debate on diversity and inclusiveness—principles which we support—we are now officially opposing this legislation in its present form.”

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me.


Pith asked Haslam to comment on why he signed a bill widely considered to be discriminatory against gays and lesbians, and which clearly contradicts the small-government principles he — and other Tennessee Republicans — have promoted. Here is the statement from spokesman Dave Smith:

"Through the legislative process, he expressed concerns about the state telling local governments what to do, but he also had concerns about local governments telling businesses what to do, especially the potential burden on small businesses. Ultimately, he felt the Metro ordinance went farther than federal law in regulating business policies."

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