State Supreme Court upholds ruling against discriminatory florist shop

  • Thu Feb 16th, 2017 11:32am
  • News

The Washington State Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court decision in Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s consumer protection lawsuit against a Richland florist on Thursday, Feb. 16. The court agreed with Ferguson that Arlene’s Flowers violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) by refusing to serve a same-sex couple seeking to buy wedding flowers in 2013.

“I brought this case seeking a definitive, unequivocal decision from our state’s highest court that discrimination against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters is illegal,” Ferguson said. “That’s exactly what the court said today.”

In the unanimous decision authored by Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, the court concluded, “The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We, therefore, hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case — refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding — constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the WLAD.”

Under Washington law, a business need not provide a particular service, but if it chooses to do so for couples of the opposite sex, it must provide that service equally to same-sex couples.

“The Washington State Supreme Court ruled for equality today. I am proud that our state stands up for all people, to ensure that all Washingtonians can shop where they want and marry who they love without persecution. This court ruling reflects our core values of equality and love for all,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker. “Washington continues to lead the nation in supporting the rights of all people. We will continue to fight for basic civil rights for people in our communities and be a leader for our country.”

Case background

On March 1, 2013, Robert Ingersoll spoke with Arlene’s proprietor Barronelle Stutzman about purchasing flowers for his upcoming wedding to his husband, Curt Freed. Stutzman refused, based on her personal objection to marriage equality.

On March 28, the Attorney General’s Office sent a letter to Stutzman asking her to comply with Washington law, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

Had Stutzman agreed to no longer discriminate, the letter stated, the Attorney General’s Office would not have filed suit, and Stutzman would not have paid any costs, fees or penalties.

Stutzman refused. On April 9, 2013, the Attorney General’s Office filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers and Stutzman for refusing to serve the couple.

Ingersoll and Freed filed their own lawsuit against the defendants on April 18, which the trial court consolidated with the State’s case on July 24.

On Feb. 18, 2015, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alex Ekstrom granted the state’s motion for summary judgment, ruling the defendants had violated the Consumer Protection Act.

Judge Ekstrom awarded the state a $1,000 penalty under the Consumer Protection Act — and the $1 in costs and fees the state requested — on March 27, 2015. The appeal to the Supreme Court followed.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson presented oral arguments before the Supreme Court on November 15, 2016. Solicitor General Noah Purcell, Deputy Solicitors General Alan Copsey and Becca Glasgow and Executive Assistant Kristen Jensen assisted with the appeal.

Senior Counsel Todd Bowers and Solicitor General Purcell argued the case in Superior Court, assisted by former Assistant Attorneys General Kim Gunning and Sarah Shifley.