News and Events

HCMP, ACLU and Washington State Land Another Victory in State v. Arlene's Flowers

February 16, 2017  By HCMP Law Offices

The Washington Supreme Court today unanimously found that a Richland florist violated the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws when she refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding. Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll were refused service by Arlene’s Flowers because they are gay. HCMP and the ACLU of Washington represented Freed and Ingersoll in their lawsuit (Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers) against the florist for violating their rights. The suit was heard jointly with the consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers brought by the State of Washington.

“We’re thrilled that the Washington Supreme Court has ruled in our favor.  The Court affirmed that we are on the right side of the law and the right side of history. We felt it was so important that we stand up against discrimination because we don’t want what happened to us to happen to anyone else. We are so glad that we stood up for our rights,” said Curt Freed and Robert Ingersoll.

In its ruling the Court said, “We agree with Ingersoll and Freed that ‘[t]his case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.’ ... As every other court to address the question has concluded, public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services. Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens in the commercial marketplace. Were we to carve out a patchwork of exceptions for ostensibly justified discrimination, that purpose would be fatally undermined.”

The Washington Law Against Discrimination (the WLAD, ch. 49.60 RCW) guarantees the right to be free from discrimination in public accommodations based on race, creed, national origin, sex, and sexual orientation, among other characteristics. Thus, it prohibits businesses that are open to the general public from refusing to sell goods, merchandise, and services because of a person’s sexual orientation.

Today’s decision upheld a 2015 ruling by Benton County Superior Court that the refusal of Arlene’s Flowers to sell flowers to the couple violated the longstanding Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act. The florist appealed the ruling directly to the state Supreme Court. Civil rights groups, LGBT groups, large and small businesses, faith groups, and bar associations submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the couple.

A group of businesses and business associations said in their amicus brief, “The owners of Arlene’s Flowers are free to think, to say, and to believe as they wish.  But they have chosen to participate in the state’s economy by offering goods and services to the public.  Amici are interested in making sure that WLAD is enforced broadly to ensure that the state’s economy is as strong and vibrant as it can be, a goal that is maximized when the marketplace is free of discrimination.” 

Representing Ingersoll and Freed for the ACLU are cooperating HCMP attorneys Michael Scott, Amit Ranade, and Jake Ewart, ACLU of WA staff attorney Margaret Chen, and ACLU LGBT and HIV Project staff attorney Elizabeth Gill.