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State: Evidence points to unlawful discrimination

Bakery owners and same-sex couple enter settlement phase


State investigators with the Bureau of Labor and Industries announced last week they had found substantial evidence of unlawful discrimination by the Gresham bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa, according to Communications Director Charlie Burr.

The bakery came under scrutiny in January 2013 after a same-sex couple seeking a wedding cake said they were denied service by the bakery owners based on their sexual orientation.

The couple, Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman, filed a state complaint against Sweet Cakes by Melissa. The owners, Aaron and Melissa Klein, claimed their Christian beliefs prevented them from making the cake for a same-sex couple.

Cryer and Bowman’s attorney, Paul Thompson, said the findings by BOLI marked a bittersweet moment for his clients.

“They are happy with BOLI’s findings, but the finding was discrimination, and discrimination hurts,” Thompson said. “My clients thank their supporters out there and appreciate their thoughts and prayers.”

Under the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Oregonians are protected in employment, housing and public places.

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, according to a press release.

Futhermore, the investigation concluded 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.

Now the complaint moves into conciliation to see if the couple and the Kleins can reach a settlement. If an agreement is not reached, BOLI may bring formal charges through an administrative law judge.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa closed its storefront in the summer, following months of scrutiny and protests by the public, and now operates out of the Kleins’ home. The Kleins were represented by Beaverton Attorney Herbert Grey through the investigation.

Still, Sweet Cakes supporters sprang up amid the controversy last year and continue to comment and post on the business’ Facebook page. A post by Melissa Klein Friday received 928 likes, 767 comments and 93 shares as of Monday morning.

“To all of you that have been praying for Aaron and I, I want to say thank you,” Melissa Klein wrote on Facebook. “I know that your prayers are being heard. I feel such a peace with all of this that is going on. Even though there are days that are hard and times of struggle we still feel that the Lord is in this. It is His fight and our situation is in His hands.”

The press release stated that Oregon businesses seeking guidance on the equality act’s religious exemptions or other provisions of the law could contact the technical assistance for employers program at 971-673-0824.

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