This flap began when Fox59 News reported that Just Cookies' owners, David and Lily Stockton, refused to take an order from a student at IUPUI who wanted to place an order for rainbow-colored cupcakes for "National Coming Out Day." Lily was smart enough to tell Fox59 News' Ray Cortopasi that the business refused the order because we sell "Just Cookies" as the name suggests. "Look around, we don't have cupcakes," said owner Lilly Stockton. David, however, couldn't keep his mouth shut and told the reporter he didn't approve of gays and had two young impressionable daughters; therefore, he refused to take an order to prepare cupcakes for a gay-related event. "I explained we're a family-run business, we have two young, impressionable daughters and we thought maybe it was best not to do that," said co-owner David Stockton. That news report set off the firestorm and led to call for the City to take action against the owners.
Everything is going along fine until the lawyers become involved. It seems a number of attorneys in this town are confused about a human rights ordinance that really does mean what it says. The IBJ quotes John Haskin as claiming the ordinance is limited to employment matters:
John Haskin, a local employment discrimination lawyer with Haskin & Larue LLP, said the city ordinance protecting sexual orientation probably doesn't apply at all in this case because it deals only when discrimination is alleged in employment matters, such as the termination of an employee.Sorry, John, but you should read the ordinance first before commenting on it. The ordinance specifically covers public accommodations. It reads, in part:
“So whether or not the cookie stand violated that ordinance is really questionable,” he said.
The council finds that the practice of denying equal opportunities in employment, education, access to and use of public accommodations, and acquisition of real estate based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or United States military service veteran status is contrary to the principles of freedom and equality of opportunity and is a burden to the objectives of the policies contained herein and shall be considered discriminatory practices . . .
To provide all citizens of the city and county equal opportunity for education, employment, and access to public accommodations without regard to race, religion, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, ancestry, age, or United States military service veteran status
The term "public accommodation" as defined in the ordinance clearly includes businesses like Just Cookies. It is defined as "an establishment which caters to or offers its services, facilities or goods to the general public." Just Cookies' refusal to take an order from someone based on sexual orientation falls within the definition of a "discriminatory practice" under the ordinance:
The exclusion from or failure or refusal to extend to any person equal opportunities or any difference in the treatment of any person by reason of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, color, national origin or ancestry, disability, age, or United States military service veteran status . . .Because Just Cookies leases space in the city-owned City Market, the ordinance further requires a non-discriminatory clause in any contract City-County agencies enter into with businesses, organizations and individuals in employment matters:
Every contract to which one (1) of the parties is the city or the county, or any board, department or office of either the city or county, including franchises granted to public utilities, shall contain a provision requiring the governmental contractor and subcontractors not to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment in the performance of the contract, with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment, because of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, and United States military service veteran status. Breach of this provision may be regarded as a material breach of the contract.An attorney at Barnes & Thornburg decided to add to the absurdity spewed by Haskin suggesting the ordinance doesn't apply to Just Cookies.
Still, most businesses have the right to refuse a customer, said Ken Yerkes, who leads Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s employment practice.Ken, you better read the ordinance, particularly since your law firm does more legal work for the city than any other law firm in town. And not to be outdone, an Ice Miller attorney suggests the ordinance may not apply because the order was being placed for a group of persons as opposed to one individual:
“Generally speaking, a private company can decide to whom it will or will not provide services,” he said.
“If a person walked up to Just Cookies, say a Latino, and [the business] said, ‘we’re not going to serve you,’ that would clearly violate the ordinance,” Blickman said. “What I don’t know is whether the ordinance extends to a group.” . . .Yeah, right, Mike. Are you telling me if the City refused to grant a permit to Indy Pride to hold its annual pride parade and celebration downtown, the ordinance wouldn't apply because it's a group rather than an individual? The ordinance clearly defines a "person" covered by the act to include a group:
Absent a city ordinance, there would be no basis to argue discrimination, even against a business operating within city-owned property. That’s because neither state nor federal law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to attorneys . . .
“And that is why the spotlight is on the Indianapolis ordinance,” Blickman said. “You might say it is on the cutting edge of anti-discrimination in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Person means and includes one (1) or more individuals, partnerships, associations, organizations, cooperatives, legal representatives, trustees, trustees in bankruptcy, receivers, governmental agencies and other organized groups of persons.Geez, do any of these attorneys bother to read the law? Further, Indianapolis' ordinance is hardly on the cutting edge of anti-discrimination in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity as Blickman suggests. A number of states and hundreds of municipalities, including several in Indiana, beat Indianapolis to the punch on that one.
So the law is very clear, notwithstanding the confusion of several prominent Indianapolis lawyers on what it means. The question is whether the Ballard administration intends to enforce it against Just Cookies. After all, the owner is recorded on camera stating his discriminatory motive for turning down the order for rainbow-colored cupcakes.