Tag Archives: complaint

Off the table: DNR nixes social dinners after open meetings complaint

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources said it will no longer host social dinners for board members the night before regular meetings.

The move comes in the wake of a complaint filed over a possible violation of the state’s open meetings law, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Opponents of a snowmobile trail in Blue Mound State Park alleged the board broke state law when it met for dinner in January and discussed business before voting the next day to approve a new park master plan.

In the complaint placed by attorney Christa Westerberg of Madison, on behalf of former superintendent Karl Heil, the attorney pointed out an email DNR sent noting the agency staff planned to not only attend the dinner but also discuss and answer questions about the snowmobile issue.

The complaint also alleged the board members were briefed prior to the meeting and the dinner evolved into “full-scale lobbying and polling of each board member, resulting in an illegal walking quorum.”

Westerberg said she wanted to hear from the agency about its reasoning for no longer hosting dinners.

“It always is difficult to handle change. But with the assistance of department leadership we will develop other means and programs to enhance communication between board members and senior staff,” stated Board Chairman Terry Hilgenberg of Shawano, in response to the end of the dinners.

DNR spokesman Jim Dick said the board will shelve the longstanding social dinners in “a desire for the utmost transparency.”

He said it will also take up the snowmobile issue again.

The board will take additional public comment at its monthly meeting in December.

Transgender man sues Gov. Mike Pence over Indiana’s prohibition on name change

A transgender man prohibited from changing his legal name because of his immigration classification is suing Indiana state officials, including Gov. Mike Pence.

Pence is Donald Trump’s running mate.

The lawsuit, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Transgender Law Center on behalf of a 31-year-old Indiana resident, alleges that a 2010 state law requiring proof of citizenship to obtain a change of legal name is unconstitutional.

“I want to use a name that is in line with my true identity,” said the plaintiff, who was granted asylum in the U.S. last year. “Without a legal name change, I am forced to use an I.D. that is inconsistent with who I am and puts me in danger of harassment, violence, and being outed as transgender whenever I present it. I am simply asking for equal treatment under the law.”

The plaintiff, listed as “John Doe” in the complaint, was born in Mexico and raised in Indiana, where he moved with his family when he was six years old. He has lived his adult life as a man and is recognized as a male on all official U.S. documents and his Indiana state ID.

However, he remains unable to change his legal name in Indiana because of the 2010 state law that precludes non-citizens, including legal residents, from petitioning the state for a change.

“There is no legitimate reason for Indiana to prevent non-citizens from living consistently with their gender identity,” said Matthew Barragan, a staff attorney with MALDEF. “Each of us should have the right to be known by the name of our choice.”

The suit alleges the citizenship provision of the Indiana law is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause that guarantees individuals will not be discriminated against based on their alienage. Additionally, it violates the First Amendment right to freedom of speech by compelling speech from the plaintiff that betrays and falsely communicates the core of who he is, according to the complaint.

“Everyone should be able to live as their authentic selves no matter their gender identity or immigration status,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center. “Transgender immigrants already experience disproportionate violence without the government further jeopardizing their safety and privacy with this unnecessary and discriminatory rule.”

“This law is a Catch-22 for the plaintiff and other transgender individuals in Indiana who are not yet able to become citizens. Their immigration status should not prevent them from obtaining a change of legal name so that they can safely navigate their daily lives with identity documents that are consistent with their gender,” said local counsel Barbara J. Baird.

Florida drops complaints against abortion clinics

Florida health regulators are dropping their push to fine three Planned Parenthood clinics, saying such action would be redundant now that the governor has signed a law that puts new restrictions on abortions and prohibits any state money from going to the clinics.

Court documents show the Agency for Health Care Administration asked an administrative judge to dismiss complaints first filed last year against clinics located in St. Petersburg, Naples and Fort Myers.

The state alleged the clinics had performed second-trimester abortions that violated their licenses. Planned Parenthood representatives have maintained that abortions were performed during the first trimester and that regulators tried to change the definition to justify an investigation ordered by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott ordered the inspections of 16 Florida clinics last summer after videos surfaced showing organization officials discussing fetal organ research.

State investigators did not find any evidence that Planned Parenthood in Florida purchased or sold human organs or tissue.

Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the decision to drop the complaints six months later shows the charges were “politically motivated.”

“These actions by AHCA make clear they had no evidence and they knew it,” Zdravecky said. “Despite this, AHCA filed the charges and caused Planned Parenthood to devote considerable time and resources to frivolous and unwarranted charges when such resources could have been devoted to providing additional care and services to the Floridians who rely on Planned Parenthood every day for health care.”

Mallory McManus, a spokeswoman for AHCA, maintained that a new law made the complaints moot. Scott signed a bill that places new restrictions on abortion and prohibits state money from going to Planned Parenthood. The bill also changed the trimester definitions.

It was not entirely clear why regulators considered the previous action to fine the clinics moot — the new law does not take effect until July 1 and would not have applied to last year’s complaints.

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, filed its own motion asking the administrative judge to order the state to reimburse attorney fees the organization spent defending the three clinics. The motion maintains the initial complaints were “improper” and designed to “primarily harass Planned Parenthood.”

Fraud complaint filed against ex-gay group

The website for People Can Change, an ex-gay group.
The website for People Can Change.

A coalition of LGBT rights filed a federal claim against People Can Change, alleging the so-called ex-gay organization defrauds consumers.

People Can Change is a Virginia-based group that preys on LGBT people and their families, claiming it can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The three groups filed a federal consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission arguing that PCC practices junk pseudoscience known as “conversion” or “ex-gay” therapy.

“Conversion therapy is abusive, harmful to children and we urge the FTC to join our call to ban its practice once and for all,” stated Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

The complaint alleges PCC’s advertisements and business practices, which claim the group can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, constitute “deceptive, false and misleading practices” and can cause serious harm to consumers, all in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The complaint also alleges PCC, like other practitioners in the “conversion therapy” industry, falsely claims:

  • Being homosexual, bisexual or transgender is a mental illness or emotional defect that needs to be cured — a false claim rejected for decades by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Services have a basis in science and fails to disclose practices can lead to depression, substance abuse and suicide.

The complaint said PCC exploits highly vulnerable groups, including LGBT youth, who already experience bias and rejection at alarming rates, and uses unsubstantiated testimonials and endorsements.

PCC, according to its website, sells group coaching, telephone conferencing, webinars and “experiential healing weekend” programs, as well as refers people to counselors.

The groups asked the FTC to take enforcement action and stop PCC’s practices, as well as investigate other organizations that practice and promote “ex-gay” therapy.

“This historic complaint is not only the first clear opportunity the Obama administration has had to end these deadly practices for good, but, if investigated fully, could very well be the final nail in the coffin of the entire conversion therapy industry,” said Samantha Ames, coordinator for NCLR’s #BornPerfect Campaign.

On its website, People Can Change issued a statement calling the fraud complaint “nothing but politically motivated bullying against our community of adult men — gay, bisexual, ex-gay and same-sex attracted men — for holding beliefs and choosing life paths that are at odds with the goals of these mega-million-dollar political organizations.

“We hold no animosity whatsoever toward LGBT communities and individuals. We simply choose to walk a different path and to respond to our same-sex attractions in ways that are consistent with our faith and personal life goals rather than anyone’s political agenda. Their attack on us is an attack on our First Amendment rights to free speech, free assembly and free exercise of our faith. We deserve as much respect as anyone who is ‘out and proud,’ and frankly, we deserve to be left alone to live our lives as we see fit.”

Earlier this year, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Cory Booker of New Jersey, joined by U.S. Reps. Jackie Speier and Ted Lieu, sent a letter to the FTC urging the agency to use its authority to take “all actions possible to stop the unfair, deceptive and fraudulent practice of conversion therapy.”

The lawmakers’ request followed a Department of Health and Human Services report calling for an end to “ex-gay” practices.

“After decades of advocacy, the voices of conversion therapy survivors have carried all the way up to the highest levels of government,” Ames said.

In the states

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have enacted laws protecting LGBT minors from the practice of “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in more than 20 states introduced similar legislation in 2016. Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to protect youth from the practice.

— L.N.

Consumer fraud complaint filed against ‘conversion therapy’ organization

A federal consumer fraud complaint was filed this week against People Can Change, an organization that uses “damaging and discredited claims that it can change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the complainants.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the agency charged with protecting consumers.

The groups said “the junk pseudoscience that Virginia-based People Can Change uses to expose the American people to ineffective and dangerous ‘conversion therapy’ practices that have for decades been linked to serious harm, including depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.”

The organizations asked the FTC to stop PCC’s deceptive practices and investigate all practitioners making similar claims.

The complaint alleges that PCC’s advertisements and business practices, which expressly and implicitly claim that they can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, constitute deceptive, false and misleading practices and can cause serious harm to consumers, all in direct violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The complaint also alleges that, in violation of FTC guidelines, PCC, like other practitioners in the “conversion therapy” industry:

• Defrauds consumers into believing that being LGBT is a mental illness or emotional defect that needs to be cured, a false claim rejected for decades by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, multiple United Nations committees, and every other major medical and mental health organization in the country;

• Falsely claims that its “services” have a basis in science, and fails to disclose that its practices can lead to depression, substance abuse, decreased self-esteem, and self-harm, including suicide;

• Targets and exploits highly vulnerable groups, including LGBT youth, who already experience bias and rejection at alarming rates in society and their own homes;

• Uses unsubstantiated testimonials, endorsements, and scientific claims to justify charging hundreds and thousands of dollars to give vulnerable individuals false hope that their core identity is something to be cured.

“Today, after decades of advocacy, the voices of conversion therapy survivors have carried all the way up to the highest levels of government,” said NCLR #BornPerfect campaign coordinator Samantha Ames. This historic complaint is not only the first clear opportunity the Obama Administration has had to end these deadly practices for good, but, if investigated fully, could very well be the final nail in the coffin of the entire conversion therapy industry.”

HRC president Chad Griffin, in a news release, added, “Conversion therapy is abusive, harmful to children, and we urge the FTC to join our call to ban its practice once and for all. This is dangerous junk science that uses fear and shame to tell young people the only way to find love and acceptance is by changing the very nature of who they are.”

“This complaint builds on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s groundbreaking lawsuit against New Jersey conversion therapy provider JONAH, in which a state jury unanimously found that its so called ‘therapy’ program, which incorporated PCC’s weekend-in-the-woods conversion therapy services, was consumer fraud and an unconscionable commercial practice,” said Scott McCoy, SPLC senior staff attorney. “Our case shut JONAH down, shed light on PCC’s harmful practices, and helped develop this important action to stop PCC and others in this industry from misleading and harming more people.”

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and the District of Columbia have passed laws protecting LGBT minors from “conversion therapy” and more than 20 states have introduced similar legislation this year. New York also is adopting regulations to protect youth from “conversion therapy” as a result of executive action by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The law firm Cooley LLP serves as counsel on the complainants’ case. 

Environmental group files open-records complaint against Wisconsin DNR

Midwest Environmental Advocates this week filed a complaint in Dane County Circuit Court against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for allegedly violating state open records laws by delaying DNR responses to MEA open records requests.

The group based its complaint on three outstanding open records requests: one related to air, the second to a group of wetlands permits and the third regarding concentrated animal feeding operations, also known as CAFOs.

Wisconsin’s open records laws — MEA referred to Wis. Stat. § 19.31 et seq. — give the public the right to obtain records from government authorities, with limited exceptions. The laws make employees at state agencies such as the DNR custodians of the agencies’ records for public access. The law, MEA said in a news release, implies a relationship of trust between Wisconsinites and the DNR, and a responsibility to serve the public by providing documentation of our government’s activities. 

“We’ve experienced too many instances where records requests have been unreasonably delayed,” said Tressie Kamp of MEA. “Now we and many of our partners in communities across Wisconsin feel that the trust that is inherent in the open records laws is misplaced. Without this trust, the law does not function as intended and citizens lose access to a transparent, responsive government. It was time to ask the courts for help.”

Open records laws require agencies like the DNR to provide records within a reasonable amount of time or to promptly and clearly explain a decision not to release requested records.

MEA said the DNR has delayed for more than six months in providing records in response to certain requests at issue in the complaint.

“Midwest Environmental Advocates decided that legal action was necessary to resolve not only this case but to bring to light an emerging pattern of delayed open records response to interested citizens, non-profit groups, and the media,” said Kamp. “To be clear, it is illegal and inefficient for all parties involved to withhold records from the public when the law entitles the public to requested information.”

Baker faces complaint for refusing cake with anti-gay message

A dispute over a cake in Colorado raises a new question about gay rights and religious freedom: If bakers can be fined for refusing to serve married gay couples, can they also be punished for declining to make a cake with anti-gay statements?

A baker in suburban Denver who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding is fighting a legal order requiring him to serve gay couples even though he argued that would violate his religious beliefs.

But now a separate case puts a twist in the debate over discrimination in public businesses, and it underscores the tensions that can arise when religious freedom intersects with a growing acceptance of gay couples.

Marjorie Silva, owner of Denver’s Azucar Bakery, is facing a complaint from a customer alleging she discriminated against his religious beliefs.

According to Silva, the man who visited last year wanted a Bible-shaped cake, which she agreed to make. Just as they were getting ready to complete the order, Silva said the man showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake. He also wanted the cake to have two men holding hands and an X on top of them, Silva said.

She said she would make the cake, but declined to write his suggested messages on the cake, telling him she would give him icing and a pastry bag so he could write the words himself. Silva said the customer didn’t want that.

“It’s just horrible. It doesn’t matter if, you know, if you’re Catholic, or Jewish, or Christian, if I’m gay or not gay or whatever,” said Silva, 40, adding that she has made cakes regularly for all religious occasions. “We should all be loving each other. I mean there’s no reason to discriminate.”

Discrimination complaints to Colorado’s Civil Rights Division, which is reviewing the matter, are confidential. Silva said she would honor the division’s policy and would not share the correspondence she has received from state officials on the case. KUSA-TV reported the complainant is Bill Jack of Castle Rock, a bedroom community south of Denver.

In a statement to the television station, Jack said he believes he “was discriminated against by the bakery based on my creed.”

“As a result, I filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. Out of respect for the process, I will wait for the director to release his findings before making further comments.”

Jack did not respond to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment. No one answered the door at the address listed for Jack in Castle Rock.

The case comes as Republicans in Colorado’s Legislature talk about changing the state law requiring that businesses serve gays in the wake of a series of incidents where religious business owners rejected orders to celebrate gay weddings. Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg said the new case shows a “clash of values” and argued Colorado’s public accommodation law is not working.

“The state shouldn’t come in and say to the individual businessman, `You must violate your religious – and I’ll say religious-slash-moral convictions. This baker (Silva), thought that was a violation of their moral convictions. The other baker, which we all know very well because of all the stories, clearly that was a violation of their religious convictions,” Lundberg said.

But gay rights advocates say there is a significant difference in the cases. Silva refused to put specific words on a cake while Jack Phillips, the baker who turned away the gay couple, refused to make any wedding cake for them in principle.

“There’s no law that says that a cake-maker has to write obscenities in the cake just because the customer wants it,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado.

Phillips’ attorneys had argued in court that requiring him to prepare a gay marriage cake would be akin to forcing a black baker to prepare a cake with a white supremacist message. But administrative law judge Robert N. Spencer disagreed, writing that business owners can refuse a specific message, but not service.

“In both cases, it is the explicit, unmistakable, offensive message that the bakers are asked to put on the cake that gives rise to the bakers’ free speech right to refuse,” administrative law judge Robert N. Spencer said.

Phillips’ attorney, Nicolle Martin, said she has sympathy for Silva, arguing she is in the same category as her client. “I absolutely support her right to decline,” Martin said. “I support her right as an American to pick and choose the messages she will express.”

Silva said she remains shaken up by the incident. “I really think I should be the one putting the complaint against him, because he has a very discriminating message,” she said.

Company denies man lost job over Playgirl spread

A company that helps businesses handle personnel issues denies it forced one if its employees out of his job after it was discovered he had posed nude in Playgirl magazine.

Daniel Sawka filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in May 2013 against Roseland, New Jersey-based ADP Inc. alleging sexual harassment. The company responded in a court filing earlier this week.

Sawka worked as a regional sales manager for ADP, which offers workforce management services, including payroll services and human resources management, for other companies and says it has more than 610,000 clients around the world.

Sawka alleges he was subjected to constant jokes and ridicule at work after a woman in his Connecticut office discovered he had posed nude in the early 1990s in a lumberjack-themed spread for Playgirl and found the photos online.

Jokes included “a comment about homosexual men viewing the photos and what they would be doing while viewing the photos,” according to the lawsuit. “(ADP) employees would say ‘timber’ or ‘lumberjack’ in reference to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s photos.”

Sawka, 49, said his co-workers continued to download the pictures at work even after he implored them not to and to “leave me alone.”

He said company employees brought the issue up during a dinner in New York honoring Sawka for his job performance and during a company outing to a New York Yankees baseball game.

He said he went to the company’s personnel department in February 2011 and was promised the company would take appropriate actions.

He alleges the company failed to end the ongoing sexual harassment and he was “constructively discharged,” a legal term meaning the conditions were so intolerable he was forced to leave the job in March 2011.

“The sexual harassment … that included managers participating in the sexual harassment, condoning it, and failing to stop it caused (Sawka) to be treated unequally when compared to similarly situated sales managers,” the lawsuit says.

The company, in its response, denies there was a “pattern and practice” of jokes, sexually charged comments and ridicule. It also says it “exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any alleged harassing behavior.”

Sawka is seeking damages for lost pay and benefits and emotional distress.

Editor’s note: We usually try to provide an image with our reports, and this would be a great story to illustrate. But we could not find an image we could gain rights to publish.

Walker administration: $7.25 is ‘living wage’

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development determined this week that $7.25 an hour is a fair wage for minimum-wage workers. The department denied complaints from more than 100 Wisconsin workers.

In a statement released this week, Wisconsin Jobs Now said, “It is outrageous for the Walker administration to claim that there is no reasonable cause to believe $7.25 is not a living wage. To issue this determination without even so much as a follow-up phone call to question … any of the over 100 Wisconsin workers who filed complaints is not only appalling, it is irresponsible.”

The statement also said, “The law in Wisconsin is very clear: ‘every wage paid by any employer to any employee shall not be less than a living wage.’ Anyone who works a full and honest day’s work should make enough money to pay for the basics. The fact that Governor Walker thinks that $290 a week is what it costs to cover the basics of life in Wisconsin is beyond comprehension. This decision makes it unequivocally clear that Scott Walker is more than out of touch: he is brutally neglectful of a huge percentage of his constituents.”

Last month, Wisconsin Jobs Now helped the workers file complaints with the state alleging that the state minimum wage is too low and in violation of Wisconsin law.

The state department’s determination was expressed in a letter from Robert Rodriguez of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, who wrote, “The department has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.”

Workers across the country have been campaigning for an increase in the minimum wage. Many workers are seeking $15 an hour. There are a range of changes proposed by elected officials and recommended by economic experts.

An individual earning $7.25 an hour would earn about $15,080 per year. The federal poverty level for a single person is $11,490. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,350.

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Pig factory’s neighbors file nuisance complaint

Neighbors of a Minnesota pig factory recently filed a legal complaint, alleging that horrible odors from the facility make their lives miserable and constitute a nuisance under Minnesota law.

The neighbors claim the foul stench from the factory prevents them from going outdoors or opening their windows, leaving them isolated from family and friends.

The claim is against the Iowa-based Gourley Bros., which built the factory in Todd County, Minnesota, in 2013.

The residents lived in the area before the company built the factory, where some 4,000 mother pigs and piglets are held in gestation crates so small they prevent the animals from even turning around.

“These pig factories make life unlivable for animals and neighbors alike,” said Jonathan Lovvorn of The Humane Society of the United States. “Confining vast numbers of animals in one building creates mountains of manure. These facilities reek of excrement and dead hogs.”

The neighbors are represented by lawyers at Schwebel Goetz & Sieben, and will be represented pro bono by attorneys with Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Protection Litigation Section.

The neighbors have also received assistance from the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.