Penalty cut for Oregon bakers who refused to serve couple
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The state of Oregon has slashed the financial penalties it assigned a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple almost 10 years ago.
In compliance with a state appeals court ruling earlier this year, State Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle said Tuesday that the Bureau of Labor and Industries is ordering Aaron Klein to pay $30,000 damages instead of a $135,000 fine issued in 2015, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer filed a complaint against Sweet Cakes by Melissa owners Melissa and Aaron Klein in 2013, saying the bakery refused to bake them a wedding cake.
The Oregon Court of Appeals twice upheld a ruling by the state civil rights division that found that an Oregon bakery illegally discriminated against the couple.
The court in January found the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries did not exhibit religious neutrality in issuing the fine and returned the case to the civil rights division to reassess it.
The damages were scrapped in 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Colorado baker who had also been fined for refusing service to a same-sex couple on religious grounds. Justices there found Colorado’s penalty had shown bias against the baker’s religion. They ordered the Oregon Court of Appeals to take a fresh look at the Sweet Cakes case.
Applying the new standards set by the Supreme Court, Oregon appellate judges found reason to believe the steep penalty demonstrated bias. While the court found the state had a right to penalize Klein for illegal discrimination, it also concluded that the agency had “at least subtly” strayed from its legal requirement to be neutral in regard to his religion.
As a result, the Oregon Court of Appeals directed the bureau, now led by Hoyle, to take another look at the penalty.
“Per the direction of the Court of Appeals, we have recalibrated the damages awarded to complainants to fall squarely within the range of such awards in previous BOLI public accommodations cases, given the record established in this case,” Hoyle said in a statement Tuesday. “This award is based on the violation of law, the record in the proceeding, and is consistent with BOLI case history.”
Hoyle’s order only awarded damages based on the decision to refuse service. It awards Rachel Bowman-Cryer $20,000 and her wife, Laurel Bowman-Cryer, $10,000 “for emotional, mental, and physical suffering resulting from the denial of service.”
The Kleins have left Oregon, and business records indicate they have reopened their business in Montana.