The Denver, Colorado bakery Masterpiece Cakeshop made headlines in July of 2012 after the store’s owner, Jack Phillips, refused to accommodate an order placed by a same sex couple. Phillips made his decision based on his belief that providing a cake for a same sex wedding reception would go against the doctrine of his religion. The incident set off a series of events that ultimately led to years of litigation that is currently ongoing. Those following the case express concern that eventually accommodations related discrimination could lead to increased employment related discrimination.
Prior to the nationwide recognition and legalization of same sex marriages Colorado, residents David Mullins and Charlie Craig made plans to get married in Massachusetts, one of the first states to legalize same sex marriage. The couple decided to hold a reception in Colorado to celebrate their legal union and visited Masterpiece Cakeshop to inquire about ordering a cake for their wedding celebration. After the store’s owner refused to provide them with a cake, the couple filed a Colorado Civil Rights Commission complaint accusing Jack Phillips of violating the state of Colorado’s public accommodation laws that prohibit businesses from discriminating against customers.
Colorado’s law protects customers against sexual orientation discrimination, and the complaint led to a lawsuit against Phillips that was initiated by Mullins and Craig. Eventually the bakery was ordered to provide services to same sex couples in the future and ordered to change company policy and provide additional training regarding discrimination laws. Phillips responded to the order by no longer offering wedding cakes in any capacity and by appealing the decision. The Court of Appeals upheld the original ruling and Phillips petitioned the United States Supreme Court asking for a review on the basis of the accommodation law violating the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.
Potential Employer Implications
Challenging the original ruling includes challenging the court’s order that anti-discrimination training be provided under the basis that providing this training would force a business owner to advocate a stance that runs counter to their religion. An employer who is not required to direct their employees to refrain from engaging in discriminatory activity when dealing with customers may also fail to provide training that could prevent employment discrimination between coworkers. Presently an employer who does not provide adequate or appropriate training to employees places the entire business in a precarious legal situation, but if training is no longer required if it runs counter to religious beliefs liability may shift or become nonexistent.
Understanding Your Rights
Cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop serve as a reminder to everyone that personal beliefs can easily overlap and affect professional actions. Colorado employees are constantly at risk of employment related discrimination that is influenced by the personal beliefs of their coworkers, supervisors, or managers. The team at HKM Employment Attorneys understands how hard it is to face discrimination in a professional setting. We work hard to protect the legal rights of employees regardless of their industry. If you or someone you know has been the victim of employment discrimination contact our discrimination attorneys today and schedule an appointment at our conveniently located Denver, Colorado office so that we can provide you with the legal advice you deserve.