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California Civil Rights Department v. Cathy's Creations d/b/a Tastries

Status: Ongoing
Last Update: April 22, 2024

What's at Stake

On April 11, 2024, the ACLU, ACLU of Southern California, ACLU of Northern California, and ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties filed an amicus brief with the California Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District supporting the California Civil Rights Department’s appeal of a lower court judgment finding that a bakery owner did not violate the California public accommodations law when she refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple.

In August 2017, Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio were excitedly planning their wedding celebration. After visiting several other bakeries in their community of Bakersfield, California and not finding what they wanted, they tried Tastries. They liked one of Tastries’ on-display sample cake designs and decided they wanted to buy a cake just like it. But once Tastries’ owner, Cathy Miller, realized that the Rodriguez-Del Rios were a same-sex couple ordering a wedding cake, she cited the bakery’s written discriminatory policy and refused to sell them the cake. Ms. Miller told Eileen and Mireya to go to another Bakersfield bakery—a bakery the couple had already visited and did not meet their needs. Eileen and Mireya were shocked and humiliated at being turned away from buying a cake that was on display for sale to all other families, and later spoke of how angry and helpless the situation made them feel.

Eileen and Mireya filed an administrative complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, now known as the California Civil Rights Department. The state agency determined that Tastries and Ms. Miller had discriminated against the couple in violation of the Unruh Act, California’s law against discrimination by business establishments, by denying them “full and equal” service based on their sexual orientation. In 2018, the state agency filed this lawsuit. After a trial, the Kern County Superior Court ruled in favor of Ms. Miller and Tastries. The court found that: (1) Ms. Miller and Tastries met the requirements of the Unruh Act by referring the Rodriguez-Del Rios to a different bakery; and (2) compelling Ms. Miller to provide wedding cake services to the Rodriguez-Del Rios would violate her free speech rights.

Our amicus brief in support of the state’s appeal argues that the trial court erred in three crucial ways. First, the trial court misconstrued California law and the record in this case when it held that Ms. Miller did not intentionally discriminate against the Rodriguez-Del Rios because she acted based on religious beliefs rather than hostility to LGBTQ people. Second, the lower court erred by holding that Ms. Miller provided the couple “full and equal” service under the Unruh Act by telling them to visit a different bakery. Finally, the trial court erred in accepting Ms. Miller’s First Amendment free speech defense. The U.S. Supreme Court in 303 Creative v. Elenis ruled that business owners have the right to refuse to express a particular message to which they categorically object, but it specifically rejected the charge that its decision would permit businesses to discriminate based on identity, such as by turning away LGBTQ customers from buying the same products and services available to others.

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