The State of Colorado and Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips have agreed to end litigation.
The announcement came Tuesday via a press release from the Attorney General’s Office, which was representing the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in lawsuits between the parties. According to the announcement, the sides have agreed to end all litigation in state and federal courts, and they will each pay their own attorney’s fees and costs. The legal re- treat doesn’t mean the constitutional issues underlying the disputes are resolved, though.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission will dismiss charges led against the bakery and Phillips, and Phillips will dismiss his case against the state. The commission had led charges against Phillips for allegedly discriminating against Autumn Scardina, another would-be customer who, on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the original case, requested a custom cake celebrating a gender transition. Phillips denied the cake, citing his religious beliefs. The commission found probable cause that Phillips discriminated against Scardina, and Phillips in-turn led a lawsuit against the state claiming the commission was harassing him. “After careful consideration of the facts, both sides agreed it was not in anyone’s best interest to move for- ward with these cases,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a press release. “The larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them. Equal justice for all will continue to be a core value that we will uphold as we enforce our state’s and nation’s civil rights laws.”
The agreement does not affect Scardina’s ability to pursue a claim on her own.
In a statement from the Alliance for Defending Freedom, the conservative activist organization that represented Phillips, attorney Kristin Waggoner described the outcome as a win for diversity of opinions.
“This is the second time the state has launched a failed effort to prosecute him,” Waggoner said. “While it finally appears to be getting the message that its anti-religious hostility has no place in our country, the state’s decision to target Jack has cost him more than six-and-a-half years of his life, forcing him to spend that time tied up in legal proceedings.” Despite the agreement to drop all litigation, it’s not a simple matter of finding a common ground and walking away. Phillips’ lawsuit was rooted only in getting the state to back off of its claims, which it did.
“For him, this is a victory,” said Holland & Hart partner Steven Collis, who chairs the firm’s religious institutions and First Amendment practice groups. Phillips’ case was led in response to the commission’s complaint against him. Despite Phillips prevailing, not much changes in the legal landscape regarding Colorado’s discrimination laws in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Colorado Civil Rights Commission v. Masterpiece Cakeshop.