Earlier this year, when Kern County Superior Court Judge David Lampe ruled that Tastries Bakery owner Cathy Miller can continue to refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples, one might have assumed that the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing had lost its case against Miller.
But that was just Round 1.
The state has come back for Round 2 after filing a lawsuit Tuesday in Kern County Superior Court against Tastries and its owner Cathy Miller seeking damages under the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the department and Eileen and Mireya Rodriguez-Del Rio, the married couple who were refused service at the bakery.
"Tastries and Ms. Miller’s refusal to provide full and equal wedding cake services to the Rodriguez-Del Rios constituted discrimination based on sexual orientation in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act," the state argued in the complaint. "The Department of Fair Employment and Housing brings this action as an exercise of its statutory mandate to enforce the civil rights of all Californians."
Lampe's ruling against the state in February did not address the underlying case. Lampe simply denied a motion for a preliminary injunction, which would have compelled Tastries to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples from the time the injunction was granted to the day the case was concluded.
In his ruling, Lampe relied heavily on the First Amendment, in essence saying that Miller's First Amendment rights trumped the state law she violated. His argument was closely tied to Miller's role as an artist in producing cakes which — he found — are protected artistic expression.
"The judge denied it, saying Cathy's First Amendment rights protect her," said Daniel Piedra, executive director of the San Diego-based Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, a team of pro bono lawyers providing legal services to Miller at no cost.
In an interview with The Californian in February, Miller was adamant that her religious views prevent her from participating in the celebration of a same-sex marriage through the creation of a wedding cake. She has no compunction about providing her products and services to same-sex families for birthdays, graduations or other celebrations.
"I told them I would be happy to refer them to another bakery but I could not participate in their celebration because of my conscience," Miller said, referring to the Rodriguez-Del Rios. "And I needed to refer them to another bakery because I answer to my Lord and savior."
The complaint notes that the Rodriguez-Del Rios were "stunned, offended, and hurt" by the rejection, which came a week after their first visit to the bakery, where the had been welcomed and were led to believe they would be served by the friendly employees they had encountered.
Instead, they "left Tastries to cope with the indignity of being denied service solely because of their sexual orientation, knowing that had they been an opposite sex couple, Tastries would have provided the cake they wanted," the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, Miller does not meet every couple who orders a wedding cake, making the enforcement of the owner's standards inconsistent. In fact, in a deposition, Miller admitted at least three Tastries wedding cakes were sold to same-sex couples since 2016.
"Tastries does not ask customers ordering a 'custom' wedding cake whether either member of the couple being celebrated has been divorced or has had a child while unmarried," the complaint states. "Tastries makes no attempt to obtain such information."
Miller testified in a deposition that she refuses to provide wedding cakes for same-sex couples celebrating their marriages because it poses a conflict with her "fundamental Christian principles."
Miller says she "is a practicing Christian and … seeks to honor God" in how she runs her business.
"Ms. Miller believes any preordered Tastries cake made for an event that celebrates a same-sex couple’s marriage sends a message — whether or not anyone knows the cake is from Tastries — that Tastries is in agreement with the celebration, a message she is unwilling to send, without exception," the complaint states.
Despite Tastries’ policy against providing preordered “custom” cakes for same-sex weddings, Tastries has provided cakes for same-sex weddings several times, the complaint says. On one such occasion, Tastries provided a preordered “custom” wedding cake for the wedding of Elena and Marissa Delgado.
Elena Delgado and her parents were present when the Tastries cake was delivered, but no wedding guests were at the venue. The Tastries employee who delivered the cake left nothing behind that identified Tastries by name.
Miller later said she did not know what message, if any, Tastries sent by providing the Delgados’ wedding cake, nor did she know what message, if any, the Delgados’ wedding guests received when they viewed the cake.
Piedra said the Rodriguez-Del Rios are seeking damages for emotional distress and physical affects such as headaches and nosebleeds. The government is seeking punitive damages.
Judge Lampe, he said, has made it clear in his previous ruling that he will maintain jurisdiction over the case, although the plaintiffs could challenge that.
"The DFEH has not served the lawsuit yet," Piedra said. "Once they do, we have 30 days to respond."