Bakery that refused to bake gay cake now refuses to pay damages

From the Oregonian

By George Rede

The Oregon couple who made national headlines when they refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding are now refusing to pay state-ordered damages to the lesbian couple they turned away.

In response, state officials have gone to court to establish their right to place a property lien or attach other assets belonging to Aaron and Melissa Klein, proprietors of the Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery.

Melissa Klein and her husband, Aaron

Melissa Klein and her husband, Aaron

The Kleins filed an appeal of the state ruling in July but also have defied a Bureau of Labor and Industries order to pay $135,000 to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, claiming financial hardship despite crowdfunding efforts that have raised more than $500,000 on their behalf.

Most recently, one of their lawyers wrote to the labor bureau to say: "Our clients do not have a bond or irrevocable letter of credit in place and have no further plans to obtain either one."

The Kleins' refusal to pay marks another chapter in the long-running controversy pitting their claims of religious freedom against enforcement of anti-discrimination laws requiring Oregon businesses to serve the public equally.

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian issued a final order July 2 directing the Kleins to pay damages for emotional and mental suffering, saying they had violated the women's civil rights by discriminating on the basis of their sexual orientation.

The Kleins have defended their actions as consistent with their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage, saying they shouldn't have to provide a wedding-related service that goes against their religious principles.

Even before the final order, supporters of the Kleins set up three online accounts to help them with expenses. As of Wednesday, those efforts had raised at least $515,000, according to a calculation by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

"It's difficult to understand the Kleins' unwillingness to pay the debt when they have, very publicly, raised nearly a half million dollars," labor bureau spokesman Charlie Burr said in an email Wednesday. "They are entitled to a full and fair review of the case, but do not have the right to disregard a legally binding order."

Anna Harmon, one of three lawyers representing the Kleins, said she could not comment about her clients' actions.

"These questions delve into matters of (attorney-client) privilege that we aren't at liberty to discuss publicly," she said. "There's still ongoing litigation and we can't talk about strategy. "

Paul Thompson, a Portland attorney representing the Bowman-Cryers, also declined comment, saying, "We don't want to speculate on their motives as to why they do or don't do things."

The dispute goes back to January 2013 when Rachel Cryer and her mother came into the Sweet Cakes shop for a cake-tasting appointment, only to be told by Aaron Klein that the Gresham bakery did not do cakes for same-sex weddings.

Cryer and Bowman, as they were then known, complained to the labor bureau, prompting a state investigation, four days of hearings before an administrative law judge this year and, ultimately, Avakian's July ruling.

"They are entitled to ... review of the case, but do not have the right to disregard a legally binding order." 

Lawyers for the Kleins twice asked Avakian to delay enforcement of his order while the Oregon Court of Appeals considers their case, saying payment would lead to "financial ruin," Willamette Week reported.

Avakian rejected the requests, citing the amounts raised for the Kleins from crowd-funding sites. He issued his final denial on July 27.

Subsequently, emails between Jenn Gaddis, the chief prosecutor in the labor bureau's administrative prosecution unit, and the Kleins' attorneys addressed ways the debt might be satisfied without putting up cash.

"If we can come to agreement on the terms and conditions of a bond or irrevocable letter of credit," Gaddis wrote to the Kleins' attorneys Aug. 6, "the agency will stay collection of the emotional distress damages from your client."

Sweet Cakes crowdfunding
Supporters of Aaron and Melissa Klein have donated upwards of $500,000 to the proprietors of Sweet Cakes by Melissa since they refused service to a couple seeking a cake for their same-sex wedding.
As of Sept. 30, donors have contributed about $406,500 via Continue to Give, a faith-based crowdfunding platform in Wisconsin; $109,000through GoFundMe; and an undisclosed amount sent to Samaritan's Purse, a North Carolina religious nonprofit, on behalf of "persecuted Christians in the U.S."
GoFundMe shut down the Sweet Cakes campaign when it violated the site's terms of service but allowed the Kleins to keep $109,000 raised on their behalf.

Beaverton lawyer Herbert Grey, a member of the Kleins' legal team, responded on Sept. 8, saying his clients had neither a bond or a letter of credit and no plans to get one.

Gaddis wrote back Sept. 16, seeking immediate payment and warning that the agency would have "no option but to docket the judgment against" the Kleins.

"It is unfortunate that they will not seek the bond or irrevocable letter of credit, that you had initially stated they were interested in seeking, when they have clearly raised close to $500,000 with which to pay the damage award," Gaddis said.

Grey did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.

Burr, the labor bureau spokesman, said the agency has docketed the judgment and is exploring collections options.

The Kleins closed their Gresham bakery in 2013 and now operate the business out of their home while raising five children.

Last week, they appeared alongside Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk recently jailed for refusing to marry same-sex couples, at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. Davis and the Kleins were among several attendees honored by the Family Research Council for standing up for their religious beliefs in gay rights battles.

Meanwhile, both sides can expect a lengthy wait as legal arguments play out in the Sweet Cakes case.

The Kleins filed a petition for review with the Oregon Court of Appeals on July 17. By comparison, the Court of Appeals just last week affirmed a final order issued in August 2013 when Avakian found that a Portland bar owner had discriminated against a group of transgender patrons.

(source)

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