Lesbian Couple Wins Suit Against Discriminating Vermont Inn

Last July, the Wildflower Inn in Vermont denied a same-sex couple use of its facilities for their wedding reception. Kate Baker and Ming Linsley (now the happily married Linsleys) sued, and today they settled their suit, with the Wildflower Inn acknowledging it had broken the law.

At question in the suit was the distinction between discouragement and discrimination. A 2005 decision by the Vermont Human Rights Commission prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, but allowed public establishments to advise customers of the owners’ anti-gay beliefs. Informed by that decision, the Wildflower Inn would ignore calls and emails from same-sex couples, but if confronted, would tell them they would host the reception if they really wanted to. The anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom argued that the inn was abiding in accordance with the law, but that simply isn’t true given the email Ming’s mother received saying that  the owners “do not host gay receptions at our facility.”

According to ACLU-Vermont attorney Dan Barrett, the settlement essentially overturns the 2005 decision:

BARRETT: What this settlement makes clear is that you can’t discourage and get away with it. Discouragement or any unequal treatment of LGBT customers is [legally] the same as an outright refusal.

ADF senior counsel Byron Babion claimed that such lawsuits constitute “attempts to coerce and police private expression,” but of course the expression is no longer private when it impacts a public customer. This would be true even if same-sex marriage were not recognized in Vermont, because this is a case about discrimination based on sexual orientation, not a “consequence” of marriage equality.

The Wildflower Inn will pay the Vermont Human Rights Commission a $10,000 civil penalty and establish a $20,000 charitable trust for the Linsleys. The couple has said it will likely donate a large chunk of the settlement to the The Trevor Project suicide prevention hotline.