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Supreme Court Publishes Masterpiece Cakeshop Ruling

Important ruling for Colorado Baker; As for the rest of the U.S… Meh? 

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm’n (06/04/2018) didn’t turn out to be the hard-line ruling many were expecting. This narrowly drawn opinion shades a very small box around a particular set of facts and circumstances. Leaving open broader questions concerning the impact of free speech and religious freedom on discrimination toward gay persons across the U.S.

Signaling the focused and limited scope of its ruling, the Court highlighted the timing of the Colorado Commission’s decision, as well as its treatment of Mr. Phillips’ (Cakeshop owner) case, as key analysis points. At the time the Commission made its ruling against Mr. Phillips, gay marriage was not yet recognized in Colorado and shopkeepers had discretion and apparent Commission support in declining to create messages they found offensive. The Court found a lack of requisite neutrality on the Commission’s part because it disparaged Mr. Phillips’ religion evoking both slavery and the Holocaust in assessing his religious belief motivation. But, even this narrowly drawn opinion provides a few high level takeaways.

The Court’s specific discussions of timing (along with Justice Ginsburg’s fiery dissent) seem to signal the welcoming of a continued discussion on gender orientation and gender identity protections. Its focus on the Commission’s compromised consideration of Mr. Phillips’ case reinforces the importance of neutrality and consistency when dealing with workplace issues touching on discrimination and religious accommodation.

Overall, it would be unwise to read this case as compromising existing workplace protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Likewise with existing obligations to consider or provide religious accommodation under state and federal laws.  

For information on (or assistance with) workplace issues involving discrimination, harassment, and retaliation visit our website or contact us at [email protected].

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