John A. Russo (politician) - Anti-bias Policy

Anti-bias Policy

In 2002, two city of Oakland employees had posted fliers in the workplace advertising the "Good News Employee Association," a group created to promote "natural family, marriage, and family values." The flier also said, "We believe the natural family is defined as a man and a woman, their children by birth or adoption, or the surviving remnant thereof."

The fliers were posted in response to a celebratory message sent from openly gay former City Council member Danny Wan to city staff on National Coming Out Day in 2002.

One flier was posted just outside the cubicle of a lesbian colleague. When she complained about the homophobic fliers, the city attorney’s office conducted an investigation and concluded "the fliers were causing a workplace disruption and were in violation of the city's anti-discrimination policy," according to Angela Padilla, one of the lawyers representing the city in the initial court case.

The plaintiffs stated in their deposition that gay and lesbian employees were like "weeds" in the workplace, and that their intention was "to keep from spoiling, to keep it from rotting, to keep it from deteriorating."

The plaintiffs were invited to post different fliers without discriminatory language, but instead they elected to sue the city over violation of their free speech rights. The case went to court, and the bulk of the case was dismissed in March 2004, while the free speech issues were dismissed in July 2005.

According to 9th Circuit Court Judge Richard Clifton, the flier presented homosexuality as something that hurt the "integrity" of the workplace, violating the city of Oakland's policy of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court, but the court declined to hear the appeal.

The case received national attention when Washington Post columnist George Will denounced the city of Oakland for infringing on the plaintiffs' free speech rights.

In his response to Will, printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, Russo reminded readers that the plaintiffs were deliberately attempting to exclude their LGBT co-workers. Russo pointed out that rather than being only a liberal issue, it was a conservative judge, a Bush appointee, who said, "It's hard to avoid the inference, 'We lack ethics, we lack integrity because these people are here.'"

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