Almost nine-year legal battle with Arlene’s Flowers in Richland ends with a 5k settlement

Richland

RICHLAND, Wash. — An almost decade-long legal battle involving a Richland florist, her religious freedom, and a same-sex wedding is finally ending.

The lawsuit first began in 2013 when Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, refused to create custom flower arrangements for her long-time customer, Rob Ingersoll, and his soon-to-be husband Curt Freed.

Stutzman said she told Ingersoll it wasn’t consistent with her religious beliefs and, according to her general counsel with organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), they hugged and she thought they parted as friends.

But later the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought the anti-discrimination lawsuit against Stutzman on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued separately, saying the floral artist violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by declining to provide services based on sexual orientation.

A Benton County Superior Court judge in 2015 ruled that Stutzman must pay $1 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the state, along with a $1,000 civil penalty, for discriminating against the couple. That judgment still stands.

The two cases through appeals by Stutzman went to the state Supreme Court, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The country’s highest court vacated Washington state’s previous ruling and sent it back to the lower court in 2018 for another review. The Washington Supreme Court in 2019 ruled unanimously that state courts did not act with animosity toward religion when they ruled Stutzman broke the state’s anti-discrimination laws by refusing on religious grounds to provide wedding flowers.

Stutzman and the ADF — in their second attempt to get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court — filed a petition for review in September 2019 but they declined to take up the case.

KAPPKVEW’S Ellie Nakamoto-White asked Kristen Waggoner, the general counsel with ADF, if Stutzman ever expected her saying “no” to turn into a multi-year legal struggle.

“Absolutely not. Barronelle loved and served Rob for nearly 10 years dozens of dozens and times. They were friends and she politely, gently, explained to him that because of her relationship with Christ she couldn’t do this particular event because of her beliefs on marriage,” Waggoner said.

On Thursday, ADF announced a settlement with the ACLU noting that Stutzman would pay the couple $5,000 dollars.

“It was a bittersweet day. We are glad that Baronelle has been able to resolve the case,” Waggoner said. “For her, it’s important that all Americans, including Rob, have the right to be able to live consistent with their beliefs and to speak messages consistent with their beliefs.”

Now 77-years-old, the great-grandmother is retiring and passing the Richland store onto her employees, some of which she says are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

“She never comprised her religious convictions. She hasn’t changed those convictions nor will she surrender those convictions,” Waggoner said. “We are glad that Baronelle has been able to resolve the case and that the legal principles for which she fought will continue in the courts.”

As part of the settlement, Stutzman will also withdraw a pending petition for a U.S. Supreme Court rehearing.

In a letter written by Stutzman, she adds that she wishes Ingersoll “the very best.”

A statement given to KAPP-KVEW from AG Ferguson reads in full:

“We are pleased to hear that Arlene’s Flowers and Barronelle Stutzman have reached a settlement agreement with the couple they refused to serve. The state is not a party to the settlement, and Arlene’s Flowers has already paid the $1,001 it owed the state. But we welcome this resolution, which preserves two unanimous victories at the State Supreme Court and ensures that LGBTQ+ Washingtonians are free of the indignity and harm of being turned away on the basis of whom they love.”

Read ADF’s full statement here.

Read Stutzmans’ full letter here.

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