Oregon Bakery Sweet Cakes Loses $135,000 Fine Appeal

Sweet Cakes Appeal

After closing their business last year, the owners of Sweet Cakes By Melissa appealed a decision requiring them to pay a $135,000 fine for releasing the personal information of a lesbian couple who filed a discrimination complaint against them with the state of Oregon. Owners Melissa and Aaron Klein just lost their latest appeal before the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Background

In February 2013, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer asked Sweet Cakes to make a cake for their upcoming nuptials. They’d already purchased a wedding cake from the bakery previously for someone else’s opposite-sex wedding, so there shouldn’t have been a problem.

That’s when the Kleins refused to serve the Bowman-Cryers stating they do not make wedding cakes for same-sex couples – an act that violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007.

While the couple was able to obtain a cake elsewhere, the damage was already done – the bakery violated the law in refusing service based solely on the couple’s sexual orientation. They filed a complaint with the state and moved on with their lives.

In the interim, in the ensuing media firestorm over the bakery’s discrimination, undercover investigations exposed just how “sincere” the Kleins’ sincerely-held religious beliefs were (as that’s the basis they used to deny service to the couple). We reported in June 2013:

We wondered what other requests these cakemakers would decline to honor. So last week five WW reporters called these two bakeries anonymously to get price quotes for other occasions frowned upon by some Christians. Surprisingly, the people who answered the phone at each bakery were quite willing to provide baked goods for celebrations of divorces, unmarried parents, stem-cell research, non-kosher barbecues and pagan solstice parties.

Sweet Cakes owners Melissa and Aaron Klein were upset that we “would even try to entrap a business” and contacted conservative talk-show host Lars Larson.

Not long thereafter, the Kleins closed their brick and mortar location and blamed the LGBTQ community for using “Mafia-style tactics” to target them.

The following year in January 2014, the The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) found “substantial evidence” Sweet Cakes violated state law sending the business into conciliation proceedings. In the interim, the Kleins utilized their newfound national martyrdom to raise money for their cause by touring the conservative anti-LGBTQ circuit.

Before heading into conciliation, the Kleins attempted to appeal the original decision – an appeal they lost. Ultimately, in July 2015, BOLI fined the Kleins $135,000 not for the actual discrimination they carried out against the couple, but for the sustained campaign of harassment they promoted that led to credible death threats against the Bowman-Cryers.

“The BOLI Final Order awards $60,000 in damages to Laurel Bowman-Cryer and $75,000 in damages to Rachel Bowman-Cryer for emotional suffering stemming directly from unlawful discrimination,” the decision read. “The amounts are damages related to the harm suffered by the Complainants, not fines or civil penalties which are punitive in nature.”

The Kleins announced their immediate intentions to appeal the decision.

When that appeal failed, the Kleins filed another appeal last year as the money they reluctantly paid into escrow remained in limbo, inaccessible to the Bowman-Cryers. All the while, the couple who merely filed a discrimination complaint continued experiencing ongoing harassment and death threats each time the Kleins toured and used their name to raise money for their anti-LGBTQ religious cause.

That appeal last just came to a predictable conclusion.

Moving Forward

In the court’s decision, a panel of judges sided with the original judge in continuing to deny the Kleins’ discrimination defense.

The Oregonian reported:

In the ruling, Judge Chris Garrett wrote that Avakian’s order does not violate the Klein’s free speech rights because it simply “requires their compliance with a neutral law.” Garrett also wrote that the Kleins “have made no showing that the state targeted them for enforcement because of their religious beliefs.”

In a statement, Avakian said the Appeals Court ruling “sends a strong signal that Oregon remains open to all.”

Responding to the court’s decision, the Bowman-Cryers said, “All of us are equal under the law and should be treated equally. Oregon will not allow a ‘Straight Couples Only’ sign to be hung in bakeries or other stores.”

The Kleins still contend their First Amendment rights are being violated – an argument used recently at the similar Masterpiece Cakeshop case heard at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We believe that freedom of expression for ourselves means freedom of expression for others,” said First Liberty attorney Mike Berry, representing the Kleins. “And what’s unfortunate here is that a family and their business has been punished because of their religious beliefs. And that’s not America. That’s just flat out wrong.”

It should be noted that attorneys made the same arguments a generation ago when defending business owners’ right to refuse service based on skin color. Then, just as now, conservative Christian business owners argued they had a sincerely held religious belief that should exempt them from being forced to serve people with differing skin colors.

Regardless of the outcome of the Masterpiece case, the Kleins have a month to mount another appeal if they should choose to do so. They have not announced any plans as of today.

PREVIOUSLY

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.

Comments

Loading Disqus Comments ...

One comment

Leave a Reply

Loading Facebook Comments ...