SALEM — Oregon’s Court of Appeals has upheld a decision to require the owners of a Gresham bakery to pay a lesbian couple $135,000 in damages for refusing to make them a wedding cake.
Sweet Cakes owners Aaron and Melissa Klein’s refusal to bake the cake for Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer in January 2013 made national headlines and prompted Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian to award the damages to the couple for emotional distress.
On Thursday, Dec. 28, the court affirmed BOLI’s conclusion that the Kleins violated the civil rights of the couple and Oregon’s law that businesses not discriminate based on sexual orientation, as well as the associated damages.
“For the past 10 years, the Oregon Equality Act of 2007 has protected Oregonians from unlawful discrimination in housing, employment and public places,” Avakian said in a statement. “Today’s ruling sends a strong signal that Oregon remains open to all.
“Within Oregon’s public accommodations law is the basic principle of human decency that every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, has the freedom to fully participate in society.”
The court found that “the record of the complainants’ emotional distress from the denial of service was adequate to support the damages award and that the award was not inconsistent with awards in other BOLI enforcement actions.”
The court overturned Avakian’s conclusion that there was sufficient evidence to show the Kleins planned to continue the discrimination, but the commissioner had awarded no damages for that specific violation.
The Kleins had appealed the BOLI commissioner’s decision, arguing that it violated their constitutional right to free expression. It was unclear Thursday morning whether the Kleins plan to appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court.
The unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals was written by Judge Chris Garrett and joined by Judges Joel DeVore and Bronson James.
The First Liberty Institute, which wrote a brief in support of the Kleins, was disappointed by the ruling.
“Freedom of expression for ourselves should require freedom of expression for others. Today, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided that Aaron and Melissa Klein are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech,” Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, says. “In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs. We are disappointed that the court ruled against the Kleins.”