The state of Oregon has reduced its fine against a Gresham business that refused to bake a cake for a lesbian couple in 2013. This week, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, or BOLI, reset the damages Sweet Cakes by Melissa owners Aaron and Melissa Klein must pay to $30,000 — more than $100,000 less than the original fine.
In 2013, Aaron Klein of Gresham’s now-closed Sweet Cakes by Melissa declined service to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, who were hoping to hire the bakery to bake their wedding cake, saying “we don’t do same-sex weddings here.” In response, the couple filed a complaint with the Oregon Department of Justice; Klein went on to publish the complaint on his Facebook page, which included the couple’s home address and phone number. In an interview with Willamette Week, the couple said they received an onslaught of vitriolic messages and death threats, and felt the need to leave their home out of fear they may lose the ability to adopt their foster children. Months later, the couple filed an official complaint with Oregon BOLI.
In 2015, Oregon BOLI determined that Aaron and Melissa Klein had discriminated against the Bowman-Cryers, and State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian announced that the Kleins would need to pay the couple $135,000 in damages. In 2020, the Oregon Court of Appeals began to revisit the case, following the influential U.S. Supreme Court Decision Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a similar case regarding a Colorado bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple: The Court found that state regulators had expressed a “clear and impermissible hostility” against the religious beliefs of the owner, and had disqualified themselves from being able to make an unbiased decision.
The Kleins hoped the 2018 Supreme Court decision may impact the ruling in their case, arguing that the state had acted with a similar bias against their religious belief. The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, but found that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries had not acted with neutrality when determining the amount in damages the Kleins would have to pay; the Court of Appeals told the state to reconsider the fine.
This week, Oregon BOLI announced it has reduced the fine against Aaron and Melissa Klein, dropping the damages to $30,000. In a statement, the bureau said that it set the new fine based on previous BOLI public accommodations cases. “This award is based on the violation of law, the record in the proceeding, and is consistent with BOLI case history,” Oregon Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle said in a statement posted to Twitter.