Pro Bono Victory: Susman Godfrey Defeats Plaintiffs’ Request for an Injunction Seeking to Repeal Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance

August 2014

HOUSTON, TEXAS (August 15, 2014) – The former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, Jared Woodfill, and his three fellow conservative activist plaintiffs today “withdrew” their request for a temporary injunction in their effort to repeal Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance in order to avoid having a Texas state court judge deny their request.

On August 5, 2014, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Texas state court and requested “immediate injunctive relief” including an “immediate” repeal vote by City Council and, failing that, inclusion of their repeal referendum on the ballot this coming November 2014.

After the submission of written briefs and oral argument today before Texas state court judge Robert Schaffer (152nd Judicial District Court in Houston), plaintiffs saw the writing on the wall and withdrew their request for an injunction.

The case centers on the Houston City Council’s passage in May 2014 of Ordinance No. 2014-530, better known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, also known as “HERO.” The Equal Rights Ordinance prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment (excluding religious organizations), and housing.

Plaintiff Woodfill and others working with him organized a petition drive to try to force the City Council to reconsider the Equal Rights Ordinance and, if it was not repealed, to put its repeal on the ballot in November 2014. The City determined that plaintiffs’ petition did not comply with mandatory provisions of the City Charter and did not have the required number of valid signatures. In response, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit and asked the Court to grant them an “immediate” injunction that would have required Houston City Council immediately to consider repealing the Equal Rights Ordinance and, if it was not repealed, to place repeal of HERO on the ballot this November.

As a result of today’s hearing, the issue of whether the Equal Rights Ordinance will be repealed will not be on the ballot in November 2014, as plaintiffs requested. Instead, there is no injunction and the case will proceed to discovery and a full trial on the merits in January 2015, which is exactly what the City asked for.

The City of Houston’s lead counsel Geoffrey L. Harrison, a partner in Susman Godfrey LLP’s Houston office, said “We’re delighted that the force of our briefing and oral argument compelled the plaintiffs to do the Court’s work for it. It’s mighty rare for lawyers and litigants to admit they’ve lost and just pull down their motion – especially after all the public hoopla they’ve fomented.” Litigation boutique Susman Godfrey LLP represents the City of Houston in this matter on a pro-bono basis.

“I believe it was clear to plaintiffs and everyone in the packed courtroom that the Court was about to deny plaintiffs’ ill-conceived request for an injunction, so plaintiffs pulled defeat from the jaws of … defeat and withdrew their request,” said Harrison. “We very much look forward to trying this case on the merits.”

“We are honored and privileged that the City asked us to represent it in defending against plaintiffs’ legally and factually spurious attacks on HERO which, of course, is all about ensuring equal treatment for all citizens of Houston,” Harrison said. “We’re proud to stand with the Mayor and the City of Houston in this case.”

Commenting on the firm’s involvement in this case, Susman Godfrey partner Alex Kaplan said that “Our specialty is high-stakes business disputes, but our firm has a proud tradition of pro bono legal work, and this is exactly the kind of case that merits pro bono service – a worthy cause for a worthy client.”

Susman Godfrey associate Kristen Schlemmer also played a key role in today’s victory.