Florist Discrimination Case to Proceed to Trial in March 2015
On March 1, 2013, florist Baronnelle Stutzman and her Richland shop, Arlene’s Flowers, she refused to sell flowers to two longtime customers for their same-sex marriage ceremony. Ms. Stutzman cited her religious beliefs when she refused to provide flowers for the September wedding of Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed. The Attorney General’s office filed a discrimination lawsuit against Ms. Stutzman in Benton County Superior Court, which was quickly followed by a private lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Washington. Ms. Stutzman countersued the AG’s office.
A recent summary judgment decision by Judge Alex Ekstrom of the Superior Court has held that Ms. Stutzman can be held personally liable for her refusal to comply with the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Judge Ekstrom also held that the AG has authority to bring this action, which many believe to be the first discrimination case the AG’s office has brought on its own. Ms. Stutzman was offered the opportunity to “reconsider her position” prior to the summary judgment hearing, but refused to change her mind.
Washington’s Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination against individuals because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation or disability. RCW 49.60.030. This “right to be free from discrimination” includes the right to “full enjoyment” of public accommodations. Ms. Stutzman’s attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom suggest that Ms. Stutzman’s religious freedom is at stake, and cites her prior employment of gay individuals as evidence that Ms. Stutzman’s decision is born from a religious opposition to gay marriage, not a dislike of gay individuals.
While Referendum 74 was approved statewide by a 54% – 46% margin, 63% of Benton County voters rejected the ballot measure.
The trial in both cases and the countersuit begins in March.