July 18, 2018

July 18, 2018

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

July 17, 2018

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

July 16, 2018

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Baker in LGBT Discrimination Case

On June 4, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 in favor of a Christian Colorado baker and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who had refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple due to his religious objections to gay marriage.

Although the case previously had been litigated on free speech grounds, the Court’s opinion largely avoids this constitutional question, and does not address whether Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Instead, the decision focuses on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s decision finding against Masterpiece Cakeshop and, more specifically, what Justice Kennedy described as the Commission’s “impermissible hostility” as to the baker’s religious beliefs.

In the underlying administrative proceeding that preceded the Masterpiece Cakeshop lawsuit, the Commission found that Masterpiece Cakeshop engaged in religious bias in violation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. In its impassioned decision, one of the Commission members rejected the breadth of the free exercise clause as a justification for Masterpiece Cakeshop’s actions, noting that “freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.” In dissent, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor, wrote that such comments in the Commission’s decision should not be “taken to overcome” Masterpiece Cakeshop’s conduct, given the “several layers of independent decision-making” throughout the various hearings leading up to the Supreme Court decision. Justice Ginsberg added that unlike other cases addressing freedom of religion (for example, where religious customers have requested anti-gay messages from secular bakers), here, the circumstances were fundamentally different because Masterpiece Cakeshop regularly made the kind of cake the couple requested and refused to sell it to them simply because of their sexual orientation.

The Court’s decision is narrowly tailored, however, and leaves open the broader constitutional issues of sexual orientation discrimination and free exercise of religion. In addition, the ruling’s effect on employers may be limited due to the extremely fact-specific nature of the decision. In fact, while the scope of Title VII, has recently been expanded by Circuit Courts to include LGBT workers, has not been considered by the Supreme Court and therefore all lower court precedents still apply. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to take any action in a pending case involving a Washington florist who refused to provide arrangements for a same-sex wedding, which presented similar constitutional issues as Masterpiece Cakeshop. Stay tuned for any further updates addressing these important issues.

©2018 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.

TRENDING LEGAL ANALYSIS


About this Author

Law Clerk

AMANDA M. GOMEZ* is a Law Clerk – Admission Pending – in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the New York office of Epstein Becker Green. She will be focusing her practice on wage and hour issues and the preparation of employment policies and procedures as well as employee handbooks and manuals.

Ms. Gomez received her J.D. from Harvard Law School, where she was the Executive Submissions Editor of the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender. While attending Harvard Law, Ms. Gomez served as a Legal...

212-351-4711
Kate Rhodes, Epstein Becker Green, Labor and Employment Lawyer,
Associate

KATE B. RHODES is an Associate in the Labor and Employment practice, in the New York office of Epstein Becker Green.

Ms. Rhodes:

  • Counsels clients on the termination and discipline of employees, effective employee misconduct investigations, disability accommodations, state and federal leave laws, the use and payment of interns, the classification of employees, the legality of incentive compensation policies, responses to union organizing efforts, and conduct during strikes and lockouts

  • Drafts and assists in negotiating collective bargaining agreements, arbitration agreements, employment agreements, severance agreements, settlement agreements, confidentiality agreements, project labor agreements, and media rights agreements

  • Advises on and drafts employee handbooks and drug testing and social media policies

  • Investigates allegations of employment discrimination, sexual harassment, violations of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and misconduct by high-level executives

212-351-3792