May 22, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Refusal to Bake Cake Because of Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage Discriminatory

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc. on Thursday, August 13, 2015.

Public Accommodations Law—Same-Sex Marriage—Freedom of Speech—Free Exercise of Religion—Relation Back Doctrine of CRCP 15 (c)—CRS § 24-34-306(2)(b)(II).

This appeal arose from an administrative decision by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (Commission), which upheld the decision of an administrative law judge (ALJ), who ruled in favor of Craig and Mullins (complainants) and against Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc. (Masterpiece) and its owner, Phillips, on cross-motions for summary judgment. In July 2012, complainants visited Masterpiece and asked Phillips to design and create a cake to celebrate their same-sex wedding. Phillips declined, stating he doesn’t create wedding cakes for same-sex weddings because of his religious beliefs.

Craig and Mullins filed charges of discrimination with the Colorado Civil Rights Division (Division), alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). Following a finding of probable cause, complainants filed a formal complaint with the Office of Administrative Courts, alleging Masterpiece had discriminated against them in a place of public accommodation because of their sexual orientation, in violation of CRS § 24-34-601(2).

The ALJ found in favor of complainants on cross-motions for summary judgment; the Commission affirmed and issued a cease and desist order requiring that Masterpiece (1) take remedial measures to ensure compliance with CADA, and (2) file quarterly compliance reports for two years with the Division.

On appeal, Philips claimed error in denying a motion to dismiss, alleging the Commission lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the charges against him because only Masterpiece was named in the initial charge of discrimination with the Commission. The ALJ applied the relation back doctrine of CRCP 15(c) and found that adding Philips was permissible. The Court agreed and held that the relation back doctrine applied to a CADA charging document.

On the merits, Masterpiece argued it was error for the ALJ to conclude that its refusal to create a wedding cake was due to respondents’ sexual orientation, not its opposition to same-sex marriage. The Court disagreed. Because the act of same-sex marriage is closely correlated to respondents’ sexual orientation, it was not error for the ALJ to find that the refusal to create the wedding cake was because of their sexual orientation, in violation of CADA.

The Court considered whether the Commission’s application of the law violated Masterpiece’s rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. Masterpiece argued that wedding cakes convey a celebratory message about marriage and therefore it was being unconstitutionally compelled to convey a celebratory message about same-sex marriage in conflict with its religious beliefs. The Court disagreed. The order merely requires that Masterpiece not discriminate against potential customers in violation of CADA, and such conduct, even if compelled by the government, is not sufficiently expressive to warrant First Amendment protections.

Masterpiece also contended that the Commission’s order unconstitutionally infringed on its right of free exercise of religion. The Court concluded that CADA is a neutral law of general applicability and therefore offends neither the First Amendment nor article II, § 4, of the Colorado Constitution. The order was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind

*