The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries says in a press release today that it found "substantial evidence" that Sweet Cakes by Melissa committed unlawful discrimination when it refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple in February 2013. The Oregon Equality Act of 2007 made it illegal in the state of Oregon for a public business to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The bakery's owners, in turn, had argued that being forced to serve the couple would violate their religious freedom.
"The investigation concludes that the bakery is not a religious institution under law," says the BOLI release, "and that the business' policy of refusing to make same-sex wedding cakes represents unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation."
In May of last year, Willamette Week asked Sweet Cakes by Melissa and another Hood River bakery that had denied service to a gay couple to make other cakes that might be seen to go against religious principles—from pagan cakes to stem-cell cloning cakes. In all cases in which WW received an answer, the bakeries agreed to make the cakes.
This finding by BOLI is not the last step in the process: At this point, the bakery and the lesbian couple go into conciliation proceedings. But if no settlement is reached, BOLI may file formal charges against the bakery.
The full press release from BOLI is reproduced below.
For Immediate Release
January 17, 2014
BOLI finds substantial evidence of unlawful discrimination in bakery civil rights complaint
Sweet Cakes complaint will now move into conciliation to determine whether settlement can be reached
Portland, OR—A Gresham bakery violated the civil rights of a same-sex couple when it denied service based on sexual orientation, a Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) investigation has found.
The couple filed the complaint against Sweet Cakes by Melissa under the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, a law that protects the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender Oregonians in employment, housing and public places.
Under Oregon law, Oregonians may not be denied service based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law provides an exemption for religious organizations and schools, but does not allow private business owners to discriminate based on sexual orientation, just as they cannot legally deny service based on race, sex, age, disability or religion.
The investigation concludes that the bakery is not a religious institution under law and that the business' policy of refusing to make same-sex wedding cakes represents unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation.
With the substantial evidence determination, the complaint now moves into conciliation to see if the parties can reach a settlement. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the bureau may bring formal charges and move the issue to BOLI's Administrative Prosecution Unit, responsible for processing contested civil rights division cases pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and BOLI contested case hearing rules.
Oregon businesses seeking guidance on the equality act's religious exemptions or other provisions of the law can contact BOLI's technical assistance for employers program at (971) 673-0824.
Public accommodations complaints under the equality act are rare. In every year since the law's passage, public accommodations complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity have represented less than one percent of all discrimination complaints received by the agency.
BOLI protects all Oregonians from unlawful discrimination, investigating allegations of civil rights violations in workplaces, career schools, housing and public accommodations.
Copies of the complaint are available upon request. For more information about BOLI's efforts to protect workplaces and support Oregon employers, visit http://www.oregon.gov/BOLI.