VA. Attorney General Tells State Colleges They Can’t Ban Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

Jodi Jacobson

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli sent a letter to state college presidents and other officials last Thursday telling them that the state's public colleges don't have the authority to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli sent a letter to state college presidents and other officials last Thursday telling them that the state’s public colleges don’t have the authority to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Cuccinnelli contends that only the General Assembly has that power and it has repeatedly refused to exercise its authority.

As recently as last Tuesday, according to the Washington Post, a subcommittee killed legislation that would have banned job discrimination against gay state employees.

The Post quotes Cuccinelli’s letter as stating:

“It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ ‘gender expression,’ or like classification, as a protected class within its nondiscrimination policy, absent specific authorization from the General Assembly.”

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The Republican advised college governing boards to “take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law.”

This step comes just days after Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who took office in January, removed protections based on sexual orientation from his anti-discrimination order.  Virginia’s last two Democratic governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, barred state agencies from discriminating in hiring, promotions or firing based on sexual orientation.

Human rights groups quickly condemned the action, according to the Post. Jon Blair, chief executive officer of the gay rights group Equality Virginia, said Cuccinelli’s “radical actions are putting Virginia at risk of losing both top students and faculty, and discouraging prospective ones from coming here.”

C. Richard Cranwell, state Democratic Party chairman, said Virginia’s colleges and universities were more than capable of setting policies that work for them “without meddling from Ken Cuccinelli.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg said colleges are bound by U.S. Supreme Court decisions not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

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