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Federal Appeals Court Holds Florida’s “Stop Woke” Act in Violation of Free Speech

Federal Appeals Court Holds Florida’s “Stop Woke” Act in Violation of Free Speech

The latest news on Florida Law:

  • The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals finds Florida law banning some diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds.
  • The Florida law has always been controversial and was aimed at eliminating educational programs that teach the moral superiority of one race or sex over others.
  • Syntrio’s courseware has always presented DEI concepts objectively, and the 11th Circuit holding affirms that our approach to these ideas is correct and consistent with the law.

As reported on March 4, 2024, by The Hill, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit unanimously upheld a ruling issued by a federal district court judge in August 2022. The 11th Circuit upheld an injunction against part of the Florida law blocking employers and schools from teaching diversity programs that contain information that members of one race or sex are “morally superior” (among other issues the state argued are discriminatory). According to The Hill report, DeSantis and the state of Florida are considering further options for appeal.

“Stop Woke” Law Controversial

The “Individual Freedom Act” (aka “Stop Woke”) was signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in 2022. The law prohibits Florida businesses and educators from requiring employees and students to attend education or training sessions, which the state argues are discriminatory and teach “woke” ideologies in companies and schools. From the moment DeSantis signed the bill, the law has been the subject of controversy and litigation.

The Florida law, among other things, caused employers to carefully consider the content of their diversity, equity, and inclusion training materials, given the law’s prohibition on requiring employees to participate in training promoting the idea that one race or sex is superior to others. The law also prohibited teachings on things like inherent racism due to membership in a race, moral superiority, and similar concepts.

It is important to note that nothing in the law has prohibited employers or educators from conducting diversity, equity, and inclusion training; rather, it requires a purely objective stance on these issues, which is a hallmark of quality inclusivity training. The March 4, 2024, ruling does temporarily clear up any confusion about the legality of such training in Florida, but the complex reasoning by the 11th Circuit does little to quash the controversy that both proponents and detractors of the law have been engaged in since it was signed.

11th Circuit Finds “Stop Woke” Law Unconstitutional on First Amendment Speech Grounds

The 11th Circuit held that the law’s restriction on speech (at least the type of speech the state of Florida found offensive) was “an illegal per se ban on speech the state disagrees with.” While Florida argued that it was discriminatory conduct prohibited by the law (and therefore not speech), the 11th Circuit disagreed and held that Florida’s “latest attempt to control speech by re-characterizing it as conduct” violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and was unlawful.

In its opinion, the 11th Circuit acknowledged that discussion of the prohibited topics “is not completely barred;” rather, the law prohibits compulsory attendance in meetings endorsingthose viewpoints the state finds offensive. The court rejected Florida’s anti-discrimination and other arguments in finding the law “both vague and overbroad.”

Syntrio’s Industry-leading DEI Courseware Has Always Presented Ideas Objectively

As soon as the Florida law was enacted, Syntrio received several questions from concerned customers and businesses interested in training on these critical concepts. Syntrio’s objective approach to the importance of inclusive thought and leadership in attracting a diverse range of backgrounds and viewpoints within the workforce has remained unchanged, and the 11th Circuit ruling does nothing to alter our approach. Syntrio strongly believes that when done correctly, DEI training supplements an aim toward a healthy workplace culture free from toxicity and harassment.

Syntrio is firmly against the idea of teaching employees that one race or sex is inherently superior, and our courses reflect that fact. The 11th Circuit opinion affirms the notion that employers should be free to teach concepts that will lead to greater inclusiveness of thought in the workplace. Still, we also understand the slippery slope that can be encountered if businesses feel they can now espouse ideas in Florida that misuse these ideas to teach moral superiority or discriminatory behavior in the workplace. You can trust that our industry-leading courseware is and always has been, objective in its viewpoint that the ideas of all races and sexes are essential and that no one opinion, idea, or ideology is superior to another.

Syntrio Invites You to Partner with Us to Ensure an Inclusive Work Environment

Following the 11th Circuit’s ruling and amidst the controversy surrounding the Florida “Stop Woke” law, we cordially invite you to contact a member of our staff to see how our courseware can help you with your goals of achieving a harmonious and inclusive work environment. Syntrio remains on the cutting edge of new developments in employment law in all 50 states (and beyond). We keep our courseware fresh with new ideas that allow your workforce to learn concepts that apply well outside of work and enrich their lives while keeping your organization compliant with all laws and recommendations for training. Contact a staff member today to learn more about how Syntrio can partner with you on these critical topics.

Contact a member of our staff today to learn more about how Syntrio can partner with you on these important topics.

Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law on behalf of management. Jonathan focuses his practice on advising employers on the prevention of harassment and discrimination issues, with an emphasis on providing in-person harassment training programs to companies of all sizes. Jonathan is licensed in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and maintains a national advice practice.

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