A proposed “Higher Education Equality Act,” designed to end most affirmative action programs at state colleges and universities, fell one vote short of passage in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.
The bill by Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, (SB8) had been debated at length over two previous weekly meetings of the panel with officials of the University of Tennessee and Board of Regents systems saying it could have unintended consequences hurting various college endeavors.
Before the final vote, the committee adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that he described as addressing “every single objection” raised by higher education officials.
Still, only Campfield and three other senators voted for the bill on final vote. Two voted no and three abstained. A bill requires five yes votes to move out of the committee.
The Memphis City Council on Tuesday approved a nondiscrimination ordinance that includes workplace protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, ending a debate that began in 2010, according to the Commercial Appeal. “City of Memphis employees will go to bed tonight and wake up in the morning to hear the news that their hard work will be respected and their ability to contribute to their community will be preserved,” said Jonathan Cole, vice president of the Tennessee Equality Project, one of the backers of the legislation. “It’s a new day in Memphis, Tennessee.”
The legislation sponsored by council members Lee Harris and Shea Flinn and approved in a 9-4 vote includes protections against discrimination for “sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ethnicity, national origin and disability.”
It applies only to employment by the city of Memphis, not private individuals or groups that may contract with the city.
Council members Flinn, Harris, Harold Collins, Edmund Ford Jr., Janis Fullilove, Wanda Halbert, Reid Hedgepeth, Myron Lowery and Jim Strickland voted for the ordinance. Council members Bill Boyd, Joe Brown, Bill Morrison and Kemp Conrad voted against it.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Lady Vols media director Debby Jennings has filed a lawsuit against the University of Tennessee and athletic director Dave Hart alleging that age and sex discrimination led to her forced retirement from the school where she had worked for 35 years.
Hart and other athletic officials wanted to remodel the athletic department as a “good ol’ boys” club while replacing her with a younger man, Jennings charges in the lawsuit filed Thursday with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Jennings was 57 years old when she left her job in May as the university worked toward consolidating the men’s and women’s athletic departments.
The suit also alleges that Hart forced former Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt to step down at the end of last season. David Burkhalter, the lawyer representing Jennings, said the university retaliated against his client when she protested that Summitt’s early onset dementia protected her under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Summitt, who remains on staff as the Lady Vols’ head coach emeritus, indicated during the April news conference announcing her retirement that the move was her own decision.
The Memphis City Council has approved including sexual orientation in a proposed nondiscrimination ordinance, but delayed a final vote on the measure for 30 days, reports the Commercial Appeal. During the delay, legal experts will research whether the legislation would violate the city’s charter. City Councilman Lee Harris originally sponsored an ordinance to ban the city from discriminating against individuals based on “age, ethnicity, national origin and disability.”
Harris and councilman Shea Flinn amended the measure Tuesday to include sexual orientation in the list. That amendment was approved 7-5, but council members later voted to delay their final vote after the city attorney and the council’s attorney raised questions about the legality of the amendment and whether it would require a referendum.
Council attorney Allan Wade and City Atty. Herman Morris said Harris’ proposed ordinance could face legal challenges for overstepping the charter, which bans discrimination on “religion, race, sex, creed or political affiliation.”
“On the face of it, it would be an expansion of our charter and would require a charter amendment,” said Wade. “You pass this tonight and there will be a group of citizens that says, ‘This is something we should speak on,’ and we will be sued. There’s no doubt about that.”
Thirty-six members of Congress are urging Vanderbilt University to exempt religious organizations from its “all-comers” policy, saying it discriminates against faith-based groups, reports The Tennessean. Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus said Monday they have sent a letter pressing Vanderbilt officials to exempt campus religious organizations from the policy, which requires that university-recognized groups allow any student to join and run for office — even if a student doesn’t share the group’s central beliefs.
Vanderbilt adopted the policy after a Christian fraternity expelled a member who is gay.
“We are deeply troubled that Vanderbilt would use its freedom as a private institution to create a nondiscrimination policy that discriminates against religious student groups,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter was dated Thursday and signed by Tennessee Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Diane Black, Stephen Fincher and Chuck Fleischmann. It’s the second letter the caucus has sent to university officials on the policy. The lawmakers said Vanderbilt’s decision to exempt single-sex organizations — such as fraternities and sororities — but not religious ones “suggests hostility on the part of Vanderbilt toward religious student groups.” UPDATE NOTE: David Fowler, who heads the Family Action Council of Tennessee, issued a statement hailing the congressional letter. It’s below.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lawmakers have given final approval to a bill seeking to rescind Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy, which requires school groups to allow any interested students to join and run for office.
The Senate approved its version of the bill sponsored by Republican Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet on a 19-12 vote on Monday. The House later followed suit on a 61-22 vote.
Voting yes were 57 Republicans and three Democrats and one independent. Voting no were 21 Democrats and one Republican. Thirteen members abstained.
Christian student leaders have been vocal in opposition, saying their groups shouldn’t be forced to admit members, and possibly leaders, who do not share their beliefs.
A federal judicial panel’s decision to reprimand a Nashville judge for belonging to Belle Meade Country Club has forced others in the legal profession to question their continued membership at an institution that includes no black or female members who are eligible to vote or hold office, reports the Tennessean. Multiple members said the club is preparing to take steps to address the panel’s conclusion that Belle Meade engages in “invidious discrimination” in hopes of preventing an exodus of members worried about the ethical or political fallout of a continued affiliation with the club.
Gilbert S. Merritt, a Nashville-based senior judge on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a Belle Meade club member, said he has received indications from confidential sources that “people who are associated with the Belle Meade Country Club who have significant influence in rectifying the situation” plan to do so in the coming weeks.
Merritt — who said he feels bound by the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability’s decision to publicly reprimand George C. Paine II, chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Nashville — said he will be forced to leave the club in coming months “unless there is a correction of the problem of no resident African-American members and a correction of the problem or confusion or whatever it may be on women members.”
WASHINGTON (AP) — A panel of federal judges said Thursday that a bankruptcy judge’s membership in a Nashville, Tenn., country club that has no women or blacks as full-fledged members violates the judiciary’s code of ethics.
But the panel said it will not take any disciplinary action against Judge George Paine II because he is planning to retire next month. Paine is the chief bankruptcy judge for the Middle District of Tennessee, which includes Nashville and nearly three dozen counties.
He has belonged to the Belle Meade Country Club since 1978. The club has never had a woman or a black with membership privileges that include voting and holding office.
The Metro Nashville City Council has two items on its Tuesday agenda that relate to legislatilon in the General Assembly earlier this year, reports the City Paper. Both are sponsored by council members soon to be losing their seats (Jamie) Hollin, the outgoing District 5 Metro councilman, has introduced a memorializing resolution to recognize local high school students who protested the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
It’s similar legislation to the resolution two council conservatives worked to defeat five weeks ago, igniting a now-legendary verbal tirade from Hollin that began on the council floor, spilled to the council’s back rooms and ended in the courthouse parking garage.
…In a separate item, Councilwoman Kristine LaLonde has sponsored a memorializing resolution to request that the Metro Department of Law file an amicus brief in support of an ongoing suit over the constitutionality of the state’s Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act.
The law, passed this year by the Republican-dominated state legislature, nullified Metro’s nondiscrimination law that required city contractors to provide employment protections for gay, lesbian and transgender employees.
JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — A federal court jury has awarded a former Lexington city utility employee nearly a half-million dollars in his age discrimination lawsuit.
The decision came Monday in the 2009 suit filed by Anthony Brunt, who The Jackson Sun reported it was unable to reach for comment.
Court records show Brunt claimed the City of Lexington Water Systems demoted and eventually fired him as the result of age discrimination. Brunt said he was fired after he filed an age discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The jury found for Brunt, awarding him more than $450,000.
Lexington Mayor Bobby Dyer declined comment on the ruling and the city’s attorneys, John Burleson and Dale Condor, were unavailable Tuesday.