The man involved in one of the most highly publicized LGBTQ discrimination cases is back in court.
Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips is being sued after refusing service to a transgender woman who wanted his shop to make a trans-themed birthday cake, given that her birthday is also the date she came out as transgender.
The plaintiff, Autumn Scardina, had requested for the cake to be blue on the outside and pink on the inside. However, when she put in the order, an employee at the Lakewood, Colo., shop informed her it does not make cakes celebrating gender transitions due to the business owner’s Christian beliefs.
These beliefs were the basis of the Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Phillips won that case in 2018 against a gay couple who’d sued him for refusing to make their wedding cake simply because they were gay.
Even though Phillips won the case in a 7-2 decision, as the court found the civil rights commission did not show sufficient respect for his beliefs, the justices didn’t clearly define whether business owners have the right to refuse service to LGBTQ people or same-sex couples because of religious objections.
Scardina filed a complaint with the civil rights commission in June 2018. “The woman on the phone did not object to my request for a birthday cake until I told her I was celebrating my transition from male to female. I believe that other people who request birthday cakes get to select the color and theme of the cake,” she wrote.
Phillips responded at the time that his business will not “promote the idea that a person’s sex is anything other than an immutable God-given biological reality.”
The civil rights commission, which Phillips was suing for harassment at the time, reached an agreement with him last year under which it would not pursue Scardina's complaint and he would drop his suit. But Scardina remained free to sue him in court, which she did, in the District Court for the City and County of Denver, which held a hearing Thursday morning.
During that hearing, Phillips’s attorney Jake Warner requested that the case be dismissed. Warner is legal counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative organization that’s been categorized as a hate group. ADF also represented Phillips in the wedding cake case. He argued that Scardina ought to have filed her complaint at the court of appeals, rather than filing a new lawsuit altogether, which he claims “isn’t fair to Mr. Phillips” because he “just wants to get back to his life and make cakes,” according to Courthouse News.
The attorney also accused Scardina, who is also a lawyer, of pursuing the case simply to “harass” Phillips over his religious views, saying, “This attorney’s relentless pursuit of Jack was an obvious attempt to punish him for his views, banish him from the marketplace, and financially ruin him and his shop,” NBC News reports.
Scardina’s legal team has countered such claims, with attorney Paula Greisen telling Colorado Public Radio last year that her client only wants the state's antidiscrimination law to be enforced, “because if not, you allow a business to send a message: ‘Go ahead, refuse service to these people, it’s OK,’ when the citizens of Colorado have said it’s not.”
Phillips had sued the Colorado Civil Rights Commission after the commission issued a letter in August 2018 finding probable cause that his shop discriminated against Scardina. He claimed at the time the state was treating him differently than other “cake artists,” but he dropped his case under the 2019 agreement.
It’s not yet known whether the Denver court will dismiss Scardina’s case, but if the case does go forward, it has an opportunity to clearly answer the legal question of whether business owners have the right to refuse services to LGBTQ customers simply on the basis of their faith.