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11th Circuit Holds Part of Florida's 'Stop WOKE Act' Unconstitutional

By Melanie Rauch, JD | Reviewed by Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is considering challenging a recent court decision that blocked parts of Florida's Individual Freedom Act, also known as the Stop WOKE Act. This law faced scrutiny for potentially violating free speech rights, particularly in the workplace.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals supported a lower court decision that the Act infringes on employers' free speech rights by banning certain types of mandatory workplace training. These trainings often address issues of race, gender, and inclusion. The court found that the law's restrictions were a form of viewpoint discrimination, which is a serious violation of the First Amendment.

Speech vs. Conduct

The crux of the debate centers around whether the Stop WOKE Act unlawfully targets specific types of speech under the guise of regulating conduct. The DeSantis Administration tried to argue that the law was all about banning certain mandatory trainings (classified as conduct), not clamping done on what people say in those trainings (this would be classified as speech). However, the 11th Circuit didn't adopt this perspective. They pointed out that determining the legality of a training under this act would come down to what was being said, making it a clear case of viewpoint discrimination.

DeSantis' Administration Response

The DeSantis administration expressed disappointment with the court's decision. They argued that the Act was designed to protect employees from being subjected to training that could create a divisive atmosphere. They have been very vocal on their stance against what they term "woke ideology" and see the appellate court's decision as a challenge to their efforts to protect Floridians from what they perceive as divisive teachings. The administration is now weighing its options, with an appeal to the Supreme Court on the table.

The Interplay of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

In an interesting twist, DeSantis' team tried to draw parallels between the Stop WOKE Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which aims to prevent workplace discrimination. However, the appellate court highlighted a key difference between the two: Title VII doesn't target speech in the way the Stop WOKE Act does. Rather, the Civil Rights Act is centered around preventing discrimination without specifically regulating what can be said about race and gender.

Implications for Florida Employers

With the DeSantis Administration pondering a Supreme Court challenge, Florida employers find themselves in a legal limbo. They're likely still within their rights to conduct mandatory DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) training, but the landscape is shifting. Businesses are advised to tread carefully, ensuring their training and policies don't inadvertently cross lines drawn by new legal interpretations.

In the end, this is a complex dance with profound implications for free speech, workplace training, and how we navigate the sensitive terrain of race, gender and identity. The only thing that is certain for now is that the controversy surrounding the Stop WOKE Act is not going away.

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