Q: What effect could cases like Arlene’s Flowers v Washington, if successful, have on employment anti discrimination laws?
A: Arlene’s Flowers v. State of Washington is a collection of cases. They all are based on a gay couple who tried to order flowers for their wedding. The florist refused to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding because of her Christian beliefs. The couple, with the help of the ACLU, sued Arlene’s Flowers pursuant to Washington’s anti-discrimination laws. In a second case, Washington’s state Attorney General sued the florist in order to uphold the state’s Consumer Protection Act.
The court rule against Arlene’s Flowers, finding the flower shop had violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws and the Consumer Protection Act. The florist appealed the decision, arguing, in part, that her First Amendment rights to free speech and religious freedom were being violated. Washington’s highest court rejected her arguments and affirmed the lower court ruling.
The florist then sought and was granted certiorari by the Supreme Court. However, SCOTUS never reached the merits of the florist’s constitutional arguments. Instead, it remanded the case on a procedural issue.
In any event, Arlene’s Flowers probably has little or no effect on employment anti-discrimination laws – even in Washington state.
While Title VII – the federal employment anti-discrimination law – does not expressly list sexual orientation as a protected characteristic, the EEOC and the courts have found that it is included within the prohibition of sex discrimination. Moreover, many state laws, including New York’s, specifically include sexual orientation as a protected characteristic. While employers have raised the religious freedom argument in an attempt to avoid employment anti-discrimination laws, most of those arguments have failed.
You can read more about the legal protections for LGBTQ employees in New York at https://www.workingnowandthen.com/new-york-discrimination/new-york-lgbt-discrimination/.
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