Friday, December 29, 2017

Oregon Appeals Court Upholds Judgment Against Baker Who Refused Same-Sex Wedding Cake

In Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, (OR App., Dec. 28, 2017), an Oregon appeals court in a 62-page opinion agreed with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries that Sweetcakes bakery violated the state's public accommodation law when it refused to design and create a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. The court upheld $135,000 in damages that the Bureau had awarded. The court held that the bakery's refusal of service  was "on account of" the couple's sexual orientation. Rejecting plaintiffs' constitutional arguments the court said that "the final order does not impermissibly burden the Kleins' right to the free exercise of their religion because it simply requires their compliance with a neutral law of general applicability...."

Moving to plaintiffs' free expression argument, the court said in part:
Although the Kleins’ wedding cakes involve aesthetic judgments and have decorative elements, the Kleins have not demonstrated that their cakes are inherently “art,” like sculptures, paintings, musical compositions, and other works that are both intended to be and are experienced predominantly as expression. Rather, their cakes, even when custom-designed for a ceremonial occasion, are still cakes made to be eaten. Although the Kleins themselves may place more importance on the communicative aspect of one of their cakes, there is no information in this record that would permit an inference that the same is true in all cases for the Kleins’ customers and the people who attend the weddings for which the cakes are created. Moreover, to the extent that the cakes are expressive, they do not reflect only the Kleins’ expression. Rather, they are products of a collaborative process in which Melissa’s artistic execution is subservient to a customer’s wishes and preferences. For those reasons, we do not agree that the Kleins’ cakes can be understood to fundamentally and inherently embody the Kleins’ expression, for purposes of the First Amendment.
The court concluded that at most intermediate scrutiny applies and the Bureau's order survives that level.  The court however reversed the Bureau's holding that the bakery's statements about the case violated a separate provision prohibiting display of any notice that a business intends to discriminate in the future. KPTV News and The Oregonian report on the decision.