Same-sex wedding cake case in Oregon: Labor commissioner reduces sentence for bakery that refused to sell to couple

An Oregon state agency has dramatically reduced the penalty for a Gresham bakery that refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple nearly a decade ago.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle announced on Tuesday that she had reduced the fine for Sweet Cakes by Melissa from $135,000 to $30,000 in response to a January 26 ruling by the Court of Appeals. from Oregon.

“As instructed by the Court of Appeals, we have recalibrated the damages awarded to plaintiffs to fall squarely within the range of such awards in previous public accommodation (labor office) cases,” Hoyle said. in a statement posted on Twitter.

The long-running case began nine years ago, when Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer filed a lawsuit against Sweet Cakes by owners Melissa Aaron and Melissa Klein, alleging the bakery refused to bake them a cake. marriage after learning that the cake would be for a same-sex couple.

The case made national headlines and created controversy in Oregon after former labor commissioner Brad Avakian ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 in damages for violating the couple’s civil rights of lesbians. Oregon law prohibits discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in jobs and places that serve the public, including bakeries.

The Kleins appealed the decision, saying baking a cake for a gay wedding went against their Christian beliefs, sparking a nearly decade-long legal battle.

The Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the state Bureau of Labor and Industries’ decision in 2015, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision four years later. He ordered the state appeals court to review its decision in the context of the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in a similar case in Colorado.

In Masterpiece Cakeshop c. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court ruled on narrow grounds in favor of a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, finding that a commissioner was openly hostile to religion in violation of the requirement of the First Amendment. for governmental religious neutrality.

In reviewing its decision, the Oregon Court of Appeals found that Avakian ordered Sweet Cakes by Melissa to pay substantial damages in part based on a statement Aaron Klein made to Cheryl McPherson, Rachel Bowman-Cryer’s mother, in which Klein quoted a Bible verse. The court found that Avakian and his agency awarded staggering damages despite finding that Klein’s statement had been incompletely passed on by McPherson to the couple.

Under its revised penalties announced Tuesday, the labor office awarded Rachel Bowman-Cryer $20,000 and Laurel Bowman-Cryer $10,000 “for emotional, mental and physical suffering resulting from denial of service.”

Sweet Cakes by Melissa closed in 2016.

-Jamie Goldberg; [email protected]; @jamiebgoldberg

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