PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A lesbian couple turned away from a Gresham bakery earlier this year, sparking a firestorm of controversy, has filed an anti-discrimination complaint with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries.
In a news release Wednesday, the agency said it will investigate whether Sweet Cakes violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, which states that people cannot be denied service based on sexual orientation. The law provides an exemption for schools and religious groups, but not for private businesses, the release noted.
According to the complaint filed Aug. 8 with BOLI, on Jan. 17, Aaron and Melissa Klein, the married co-owners of Sweet Cakes on Northeast Division Street, refused to sell a cake to Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman when they learned that it was for a same-sex wedding.
“I told him, ‘there are two brides and our names are Rachel and Laurel.’ Respondent then told me that they do not provide their services for same-sex weddings,” the complaint reads. “Respondent cited religious belief for its refusal to make cakes for same sex couples planning to marry.”
The action prompted passionate protests on both sides of the issue.
The investigation could take up to a year. Charlie Burr, a BOLI spokesman, told KOIN that if the two parties cannot reach a settlement, bureau investigators will decide whether there is enough substantial evidence of discrimination to bring formal charges. The case will then go to the Administrative Prosecution Unit, which prosecutes cases on behalf of BOLI’s Civil Rights Division. A hearing will take place before an administrative law judge. The judge and the commissioner will then jointly determine the economic and non-economic damages, if any.
The bakery owners can then appeal that decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
In January, immediately following the incident, Laurel Bowman filed a complaint with the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ). Jeff Manning, a Justice Department spokesman, told KOIN in an email Wednesday that, at the time, the DOJ concluded that this was “more of a civil rights case than a consumer protection case.” It advised the couple’s lawyer that “BOLI may be the more fitting venue as the bureau has jurisdiction over civil rights cases.”
The Justice Department subsequently dropped its investigation.
“We are committed to a fair and thorough investigation to determine whether there’s substantial evidence of unlawful discrimination,” Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said in a statement.
— Brent Weisberg contributed information to this report.