The ACLU and the ACLU of Vermont announced earlier today that a Brooklyn lesbian couple who had sued a Vermont inn for discrimination has settled the case. GO covered the story when the suit was filed.
Ming Linsley and Kate Linsley (nee Baker) filed Baker & Linsley v. Wildflower Inn against a Vermont resort because the innkeepers refused to host the couple’s wedding reception after realizing the Linsleys were a same-sex couple. The innkeepers cited strong religious beliefs against homosexuality and argued that it was exempt from Vermont’s public accommodations law, which requires public buildings and businesses to serve all people equally.
“As part of the settlement agreement, Wildflower Inn agreed that Vermont’s public accommodations law prohibits unequal treatment of same-sex couples, which includes turning away same-sex couples seeking to have a wedding reception, failing to respond to inquiries from those couples, or discouraging those couples from using the facilities. The resort also agreed to pay $10,000 to the Vermont Human Rights Commission as a civil penalty and to place $20,000 in a charitable trust to be disbursed by the couple,” the ACLU reported. The Linsleys will not keep any of the money.
The ACLU continued, “As the case went forward, we discovered that other couples had also been turned away by Wildflower Inn and that many more were discriminated against without even realizing it. It turns out Wildflower Inn had a policy of not responding to initial inquiries or phone calls about wedding receptions if it was clear that the reception would be for a same-sex couple. In other cases, the owners of Wildflower Inn admitted they would discourage same-sex couples from using the facilities by telling those couples that hosting the reception would violate their religious beliefs. As part of the settlement, Wildflower Inn has agreed to change its policies and will not engage in any of these discriminatory practices.”
Consumers may think that private business owners have the right to turn away customers for any reason. Most states, however, have laws prohibiting businesses that serve the public from cherry-picking their customers.
“Everyone is entitled to his or her own religious beliefs, but when you operate a business in the public sphere, those beliefs do not give you a right to discriminate,” the ACLU stated.