WA Supreme Court Rules Against Florist In Gay Marriage Discrimination Case

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Baronelle Stutzman
Baronelle Stutzman

What so far has proven to be a long ordeal for two men originally wanting only to be provided with a floral arrangement for this upcoming wedding, and also for florist Barronelle Stutzman who asserts her right to religious freedom by denying this service, has now come to another milestone in Washington.

A unanimous ruling by the Washington Supreme Court, the court denied Stutzman and her business, Arlene’s Flowers, INC’s assertions, ruling:

“…Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” and therefore held that “the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case-refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding-constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the WLAD.” (Washington Law Against Discrimination)

We previously wrote HERE and HERE of Richland, Washington Florist Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, who caused a row when she refused to provide her floral services for a gay wedding. Now, a Benton County Superior Court Judge ruled that she violated the state’s consumer protection act that bars discrimination against a protected class.

The legal action was brought by customer Robert Ingersoll and the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

Judge Alex Ekstom rejected Baronelle’s arguments that her actions were protected by free speech and religious freedom guarantees stating in part:

“For over 135 years, the Supreme Court has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief. The Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”

Robert had been a customer of Arlene’s Flowers for several years prior to the incident in question. Barronelle was aware that he was gay and had a partner Curt Freed for whom he purchased flowers. When Washington statutorily provided for gay marriage in 2012, Robert asked Barronelle to make the wedding arrangement for him. But, Barronelle declined, putting her hand upon Robert’s and stating that “because of [her] relationship with Jesus Christ”, she would not be able to do so—according to her statement in a deposition.

In court filings the couple asserted emotional damaging fallout resulting from the denial of the floral services and that it allegedly brought unintended consequences that effectively crashed their original wedding plans after word travelled virulently on social media.

…Early the next morning, after a sleepless night, Freed posted a status update on his personal Facebook feed regarding Stutzman’s refusal to sell him wedding flowers. The update observed, without specifically naming Arlene’s Flowers, that the couple’s “favorite Richland Lee Boulevard flower shop” had declined to provide flowers for their wedding on religious grounds, and noted that Freed felt “so deeply offended that apparently our business is no longer good business,” because “[his] loved one [did not fit] within their personal beliefs.” This message was apparently widely circulated, though Ingersoll testified that their Facebook settings were such that the message was “only intended for our friends and family.” Eventually, the story drew the attention of numerous media outlets.

As a result of the “emotional toll” Stutzman’s refusal took on Freed and Ingersoll, they “lost enthusiasm for a large ceremony” as initially imagined.In fact, the two “stopped planning for a wedding in September 2013 because [they] feared being denied service by other wedding vendors.” The couple also feared that in light of increasing public attention-some of which caused them to be concerned for their own safety-as well as then-ongoing litigation, a larger wedding might require a security presence or attract protesters, such as the Westboro Baptist group.

So they were married on July 21, 2013, in a modest ceremony at their home. There were 11 people in attendance. For the occasion, Freed and Ingersoll purchased one bouquet of flowers from a different florist and boutonnieres from their friend. When word of this story got out in the media, a handful of florists offered to provide their wedding flowers free of charge.

Stutzman also received a great deal of attention from the publicity surrounding this case, including threats to her business and other unkind messages.

Curt and Robert sued. They cited the Washington Consumer Protection Act and its laws against discrimination. They supported by the Washington Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the State Attorney General who welcomed the Superior Court ruling.

Under the Washington Consumer Protection Act, Arlene’s Flowers is subject to a sanction of One Thousand Dollars for failing to comply with the act.

An interesting aspect of Stutzman’s defense was that she could not be personally liable for the actions–the refusal to perform floral services–because she was shielded by the Corporate Veil pursuant to the incorporation of Arlene’s flowers. Yet the Court made it quite clear as to how liability for violations of the WLAD and the Consumer Protection Act may fall upon corporate officers and make their corporation’s liability their own; something likely to deter similar forms of discrimination:

Stutzman argues that she cannot be personally liable for violating the CPA [Consumer Protection Act] because (1) she kept her affairs separate from Arlene’s Flowers’ and (2) no
Washington court has ever applied the “responsible-corporate-officer doctrine” outside the fraud context. Br. of Appellants at 49 (citing Grayson v. Nordic Constr. Co., 92 Wn.2d 548, 552-53, 599 P.2d 1271 (1979); One Pac. Towers Homeowners’ Ass ‘n v. HAL Real Estate Invs., Inc., 108 Wn. App. 330, 347-48, 30 P.3d 504 (2001), aff’d in part and rev ‘din part, 148 Wn.2d 319, 61 PJd 1094 (2002)).

The authority Stutzman cites does not support this argument. In Grayson, this court held that the defendant could be personally liable for his company’s CPA violation even though there were no grounds for piercing the corporate veil. 92 Wn.2d at 553-54. This directly contradicts Stutzman’s theory that she cannot be personally liable under the CPA unless she commingled her finances with Arlene’s Flowers’. And the other case, One Pac. Towers, 108 Wn. App. 330, does not address a CPA claim.

On the other hand, there is long-standing precedent in Washington holding that individuals may be personally liable for a CPA violation if they “participate[] in the wrongful conduct, or with knowledge approve[] of the conduct.” State v. Ralph Williams’ N. W. Chrysler Plymouth, Inc., 87 Wn.2d 298, 322, 553 P.2d 423 ( 197 6). Liability for such participation or approval does not depend on piercing the corporate veil. ld. This is consistent with the CPA’s plain language, which authorizes the attorney general to bring an action against “against any person to restrain and prevent the doing of any act herein prohibited or declared to be unlawful,” RCW 19.86.080(1) (emphasis added), and which defines “person” to include “where applicable, natural persons,” as well as corporate entities, RCW 19.86.010(1).

Such individual liability does not constitute an application of, or expansion of, the responsible corporate officer doctrine. That doctrine expands liability from a corporation to an individual officer who would not otherwise be liable “where the officer stands ‘in responsible relation to a public danger.'” Dep’t of Ecology v. Lundgren, 94 Wn. App. 236, 243, 971 P.2d 948 (1999) (quoting United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277,281, 64 S. Ct. 134, 88 L. Ed. 48 (1943)). Here, the trial
court did not find Stutzman (the individual) vicariously or secondarily liable based on conduct of Arlene’s Flowers (the corporation). It found her liable because of acts that she herself committed.

The complete Opinion may be read HERE.

From a strictly business point of view I fully do not understand why a person would throw away good business. Gay marriage then was only recently enacted in several states and a new market for floral arranging is certain to develop. These couples could have referred additional business. And on the other hand this is another example of pettiness mushrooming into a great ordeal costing thousands of times more in terms of money and unease for all concerned, when alternatively Stutzman could have simply made the flower arrangement, made money form the sale, and have been done with it. Now, from her point of view she is worse off. The right she believed she had to deny gay couples to have services has now been destroyed and the prohibition for others has been cast in stone statewide.

Regardless of which side someone is on for this issue, a lesson should be learned that performing with reckless legal ambition and egotism often leads to laws and mandates completely disadvantageous to their cause. But then again there is the opposite side who is often benefited. In this case, Stutzman helped the civil rights movement for gay individuals quite nicely.

By Darren Smith

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

118 thoughts on “WA Supreme Court Rules Against Florist In Gay Marriage Discrimination Case”

    1. Very amusing – posting a “newz story” by “experts” from the (losing!!) NY Times. You have a great sense of humor!

      1. Autumn – the article is listed as an opinion piece from the NYT. Not expected to be fact even by the NYT,

    2. Premise: A person’s right of free speech is necessarily limited by anticipated IRRATIONAL reactions by those desiring to squelch such a right.

      Genius.

  1. The only way to have freedom of religion is to first have freedom from religion. The moment religion dictates the interactions between people in general is the moment we have transitioned to a condition such is found in the Muslim and societies and Israel. The secular law must take precedence. If a religious issue takes precedence then that religion will denigrate centuries of social evolution. Good for the courts to see this plainly. There is one’s personal belief or the I and then there is society, the we. This struggle has been going on since the beginning of time and it has always been headed in one direction, the we. Without the we there is no place for the I. Of course there are always those who tout that the I should come first, the Daniel Boones, Davey Crocketts, Charleton Hestons. None of them would have existed without the WE.

  2. That the flower shop is a corporation is important, I hold. Corporations do not have rights, not being people. Despite some confused supreme court justices holding otherwise.

    1. Sorry, but the SCOTUS says corporations have religious convictions (Hobby Lobby case.) I’ve never seen Sears or Walmart at my church, but perhaps they are Protestant. Or Muslim, lol.

    2. I’m okay with that logic, except then the court pierced the corporate veil and made her responsible as she is a corporate officer. And while I’m not a lawyer, if they are going to pierce the corporate veil to get to her, then she is a person and she does have rights.

  3. I’m curious how long you think this deliberate targeting of businesses can last? And if your disapproval will amount to anything

  4. “What so far has proven to be a long ordeal for two men originally wanting only to be provided with a floral arrangement ”

    They were a##holes who deliberately targeted certain businesses. If they were just some innocent gay couple They could have just walked down the street and gotten served.

    1. Steve, speaking of holes. . .
      one of my favorite lines from the Talmud:
      “If you have a mouse it’s the hole’s fault”.
      The florist got righteous with her heart and stupid with her wallet.

      1. Roscoe – sometimes state Supreme Courts need to be reminded that the US Constitution is the law of the land, not some silly law out of their legislature.

      2. Paul, just because a phantom baby sitting entity of consciousness drives ones ability to make determinations doesn’t mean that everyone should have their commerce regulated by that entity and its shop manual.
        Remove God from the equation and provide, under the state guidelines what the protected class want as far as goods and services.

        1. Roscoe – we have a couple of Constitutional amendments that require that religion be included in the decision. Somehow, WA doesn’t believe in that.

            1. Roscoe – I don’t think a sexual discrimination claim trumps a religious discrimination claim. Only one of them has a Constitutional basis.

              1. Like I said earlier, sorry Steve57 I just can’t help it, I don’t think this case rises to the same level of harm as the Little Sisters of the Poor.
                Not sure we can start selectively deciding which protected class is more or less protected than another.

                1. Roscoe – don’t you think the case covered by the US Constitution trumps the law of Washington?

                2. Sorry, Roscoe. The first amendment does not set up criteria of harm before the law kicks in. The courts have to go by the law and the Constitution trumps all.

            2. The case wasn’t about selling flowers, it was about creating floral displays for a wedding. Why do you think you can buy a cake for about $10 bucks, but a wedding cake costs several hundred? It isn’t the cake you’re paying so much for, it’s the artistry. The same reason it will cost you much more to have someone paint a portrait of your family than paint your shed, even though the amount of paint used, or flour, butter and eggs, is about the same.

    1. If “all men (which clearly meant all conceptual animals at the time) are created equal,” then any “protected classes” are an abomination to reason, universals, and human dignity.

      1. Any violations of that, such as slavery, was clearly abhorrent then and a clear contradiction, just as “protected classes” is a clear contradiction now and a main source for the current “cold” civil war leading to a possible “hot” civil war in the future just as it was “waaay back then.” Nothing has changed. There is no such thing as a “protected class” just as there is no such thing as an “inferior class.”

  5. As a libertarian and an atheist, I nevertheless take the part of the florist, only because the courts violated her property rights. When the state dictates to an individual with whom he may conduct business, then the individual becomes ipso facto an employee of the state. The same thing applies when one is told to whom one may sell one’s house (here, restrictive covenants help to preserve the character of a neighbourhood). Equally, the owner of a restaurant has the right: ‘to refuse service to anyone’. Finally, the board of governors of a school have a right to decide who will attend their school.

  6. When did we as a people become so weak that we need to bully people into doing what we want through our court system just because our feelings were hurt? The gay couple also had the choice to leave a private matter private and move onto another florist, respecting her personal beliefs as they obvously demanded her to do with a heavy hand. You say this could all been taken care of easily had she quietly done what was requested and given the money to the church. I would equally assert that the couple could have as easily respected her views on marriage that have been a part of not only our country but the world for millenia, instead of splashing the event all over public media and then suing. There was a day when respect for another’s beliefs went two ways, and taking someone to court because ‘they hurt my feelings’ would have been seen as ludicrous. I would have said the same if the shoe were on the other foot, and she had done as they because of her Christian beliefs.

    1. When people were refused at diners and hotels and many other retail establishments.

      Live in a city and you have no constitutional right to have an unlicensed business at a retail establishment. Want to do business on Main Street? Abide by the rules of an elected democratic government.

  7. This decision solidifies the total reversal of the Enlightenment principles that underlay the American Experience. Discrimination (an action by another that causes emotional turmoil) now trumps (no pun intended) ALL Natural rights. It is not a universal ideal; whereas, the natural right to contract is totally universal.

    There are no contradictions in voluntary contractual rights; both have a choice. Now with the new ideology of discrimination, the consumer has the choice based on whim, revenge, bargain, quality of product, routine. etc, but the other party MUST be a slave to the “customer.” It’s especially egregious now due to a growing list of grievances as perceived At Large, not necessarily perpetrated by the proprietor or not (except that a refusal to contract makes one “feel bad” or “lose sleep” or “feel threatened.”

    This is all caused by the Civil Liberties Act of 1964. What should have been government persuasion and assurance of safety to any and all private enterprise rushing to close the gap of restaurants and sleeping accommodations to blacks in the South, became a Mandate to force existing businesses (and all future businesses) to contract involuntarily (and now for a growing laundry list of victim classes). Any objections to “discrimination” and “civil rights” makes one “racist,” “sexist,” etc., so that all conversations to return to long fought Enlightenment Universals become impossible.

  8. All she and anyone else in a similar situation should do is simply accept the order. As soon as possible confirm whether it is or is not a homosexual nuptial. If yes, immediately contact the person with whom you entered the contract, and say, “I’m so very sorry, but I must cancel this order and I shall immediately refund your deposit.” To the question, “Why,” the appropriate reply is to avoid direct reply at all cost. Simply repeat, “I’m so sorry about this,” etc, etc, etc. Never,ever give a direct reply. If/when any legal authority requests a direct reply, hire an attorney to tell them to, you know, shove it (using pleasant legal language, of course).

    Darren, would the above instructions not pass legal muster? I don’t know how anyone could force someone to admit the reason for refusing business.

    The problem, as usual, comes in opening one’s mouth when it must remain closed.

  9. “If you think that a business fundamentally belongs to a person — and not the state — then you’re more likely to believe that the state can and should restrict your right to operate your business as you see fit only when it has demonstrated concrete, urgent need. Take, for example, the government’s response to the systematic denial of services to black citizens in the South. Confronted with a social, economic, and political system that in a real way re-created the “badges and incidents of slavery,” the government took the serious step of overriding the business-owner’s right to run his store or restaurant to try to rectify the century-old failure of Reconstruction and the imposition of white supremacist rule in the old Confederacy.

    If you think, however, that businesses either ultimately belong to the state — or exist mainly at the pleasure of the state — then government can conscript private businesses in its preferred political crusades, even in the absence of real need or widespread social harm. This is exactly what’s happening with most modern nondiscrimination laws. Rather than argue, for example, that states had to enact sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws because gay people couldn’t find places to eat, drink, or sleep, sexual revolutionaries demand that government take action against “social evil” because businesses must not be permitted to do “wrong” things.

    That, friends, is what you call, “legislating morality.”

    The bottom line is that expansive nondiscrimination policies represent something akin to the secular creed of the progressive church. The state is overriding individual liberty to implement a specific world view — without any meaningful evidence that reforms are necessary to address a particular cultural problem. There is no lack of florists, bakers, and photographers eager to help celebrate gay weddings, but it becomes intolerable to the Left that there exists even a single commercially-viable dissenting voice. Churches, after all, won’t let their pulpits be used for heresy. To the modern administrative state every business is a pulpit, and those pulpits must preach the progressive social gospel.”

    Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/445006/nondiscrimination-policies-represent-secular-creed-progressive-church

  10. The Washington Supreme Court is simply basing its decision on the local law and is ignoring the First Amendment, which should always trump local laws in a correct legal analysis. But this decision has nothing to do with legal correctness; but rather, has everything to do with political correctness. Most judges are politicians and do not follow the facts and the law as it is given to them, and this decision is no different, reflecting the leftist politics of the judges rendering this decision.

    The local law says consumers have “[t]he right to engage in commerce free from any discriminatory boycotts or blacklists. Discriminatory boycotts or blacklists for purposes of this section shall be defined as the formation or execution of any express or implied agreement, understanding, policy or contractual arrangement for economic benefit between any persons which is not specifically authorized by the laws of the United States and which is required or imposed, either directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, by a foreign government or foreign person in order to restrict, condition, prohibit, or interfere with or in order to exclude any person or persons from any business relationship on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, sex, honorably discharged veteran or military status, SEXUAL ORIENTATION [emphasis added], the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability, or national origin or lawful business relationship: PROVIDED HOWEVER, That nothing herein contained shall prohibit the use of boycotts as authorized by law pertaining to labor disputes and unfair labor practices. . .”

    So, sure, under the local law Baronelle Stutzman was discriminating against the potential customers because of their sexual orientation.

    But, under the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Yet, here, we have a law that directly contradicts “the free exercise” of Baronelle Stutzman’s religious beliefs.

    Thus, from a legal standpoint, the sexual orientation clause must be disregarded as in conflict with the First Amendment. But, as I said, because judges and courts today are primarily driven by politics, rather than the facts and the law, the law is going to take a back seat to political correctness.

    What would truly make for an interesting case would be if the facts of the case were basically the same, but the business owner were a Muslim, rather than a Christian. That would put the politically correct courts and judges in a tizzy. Political correctness would force them on one hand to favor the customer as before, but on the other hand, political correctness would also force them to favor the business owner as a Muslim, because Islam is held in higher regard to Christianity or any other religion by the leftist judges and court.

    So, I’m never surprised by any court making a ruling against practitioners of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or any other non-Islamic faith. But do wake me up when you find a case where the leftist courts and judges rule against practitioners of Islam. Okay?

  11. “Let’s be clear, according to the plain language of the law and the undisputed facts of the case, Stutzman did nothing illegal. She had always consistently and joyfully served gay clients, including the man who ultimately decided to bring potentially ruinous legal claims against her. On each of those prior occasions, however, she was not using her artistic talents to help her clients celebrate an occasion she considered immoral.

    In other words, she was not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. She was making a decision not to help celebrate an action, a form of expression. She would no more celebrate a gay wedding than she would any form of immorality, gay or straight. To dispense with her argument, the court did what numerous progressive courts have done: It rewrote the law. It rejected what it called the “status/conduct” distinction, and essentially interpreted the word “orientation” to also mean “action.”

    To understand how nonsensical and dangerous this is, one need merely apply it to other categories of expression. Is it now racial discrimination to refuse to bake a cake with Confederate flag icing, since the person asking for such a cake will almost always be white? Is it gender discrimination for fashion designers to refuse to “dress” Ivanka or Melania Trump? They’re women, after all.

    But this is the sexual revolution we’re talking about, so it’s necessary for the court to make a statement declaring the government’s allegiances.”

    Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/444989/washington-supreme-court-christian-florist-religious-freedom-gay-discrimination-case

  12. Although I am quite supportive of gays, I think both the law and the decision are wrong-headed.

  13. I am okay with the decision, however as a layman subjected to various abused of the courts as I see them, I think claims like this based on the refusal

    > In court filings the couple asserted emotional damaging fallout resulting from the denial of the floral services and that it allegedly brought unintended consequences that effectively crashed their original wedding plans after world travelled virulently on social media.

    should be tossed out and the attorneys who submitted it warned in writing.

    They want to sue on other legal grounds of discrimination fine. If the law makes them make up ridiculously idiotic damages to sustain their suit the law should be changed.

    But egregiously stupid damages should be tossed and have some sort of reasonable person clause. Being denied flowers may very well be illegal and they may merit damages, but don’t tell me you suffered enormous emotional damage from it.

  14. And after the florists? Who are they going to come after next .Not the other florists., They didn’t stand up for one of their group, Fact is the two could have gone to a different florist in the beginning. This one one was chose on purpose to make an example of the whole and place the fear of the Nazi state in all of them. But then who did the pubic vote back into office? Washington wants to live in a fascist police state let them live in a fascist police state. Move to another state that enjoys the freedoms of a Constitutional Republic and the blessings of democratic principles.The voters deserve what the asked for. Today florists tomorrow people who don’t wash their hands before serving food.

  15. Not that I agree with the lady but did anyone expect it go any other way? If she was smart she should have charged them double to ease her religious convictions and given the other half to the church, after all it’s just business.

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