Christian baker who refused to bake a trans woman’s cake to face discrimination suit in court
A Colorado judge will allow a discrimination complaint against Christian baker Jack Phillips, who refused to make a cake in the colours of the trans Pride flag, but has thrown out a second complaint against him.
In 2017, Phillips, who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to bake a pink and blue frosted cake to celebrate the transition of Autumn Scardina, a transgender lawyer based in Denver, Colorado.
After Phillips refused to bake the cake, Scardina filed a complaint against him in 2018 through the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Scardini alleged that Philipps’ refused to create the cake because she is trans.
Phillips then sued the state of Colorado, claiming that he was being persecuted for his religious beliefs as he is Christian. Phillips and the state of Colorado agreed to drop the cases against each other in March 2019.
However, Scardini filed her own lawsuit against Philipps in June 2019, claiming his bakery falsely advertised that it would “be happy to provide a variety of baked goods, including birthday cakes, to all members of the public, including LGBT individuals”.
Scardina’s suit claimed that Phillips violated two state laws, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) and the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) when refusing to create the cake.
Phillips’ attorneys filed a motion asking the court to dismiss Scardina’s case, arguing that she should have gone to the appeals court for a second course of action instead of opening a new tab at the trial court level.
But, in a ruling released on Thursday (4 March), Denver district court judge A Bruce Jones dropped the complaint against Phillips that alleged he had violated CAPA by engaging in “an unfair or deceptive trade practice”.
Scardina’s legal team argued, in response to the controversy, Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop “attempted to exploit the news coverage by stating they would sell birthday cakes to LGBT customers”.
But the judge said: “If [they] were engaged in such a stealth advertising campaign, they successfully disguised it within their speech on a matter of public concern.”
As such, the judgment said Scardina’s legal team “failed to establish an actionable unfair or deceptive trade practice” and found in Phillips’ favour on the CCPA claim.
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But Jones did not dismiss the second claim which accuses Phillips of violating anti-discrimination law. The judgment said Scardina “need not establish that her transgender status was the ‘sole’ cause of the denial of services”. “Rather, she need only show that the discriminatory action was based, in whole or in part, on her protected status,” the court document read.
Scardina’s attorneys Paula Griesen said the judge’s decision to dismiss the claim was “a very narrow holding on a certain set of facts related to the Colorado Consumer Protection Act that has no bearing on the discrimination claim”.
“It has nothing to do with the merits of whether or not businesses are allowed to refuse service to the LGBTQ+ community,” Griesen added.
Alliance Defending Freedom general counsel Kristen Waggoner, who represented Phillips, said the decision to dismiss one of the claims against her client is “the first step towards final justice”.
“Jack has been threatened with financial ruin simply because he makes decisions about which messages to create and celebrate — decisions that every other artist in Colorado is free to make,” Waggoner said in a statement. “Tolerance for different opinions is essential. We look forward to defending Jack — and ultimately prevailing — on the remaining claim.”