Rouch World LLC v. Department of Civil Rights

Michigan Supreme Court Lansing, Michigan Syllabus Chief Justice: Justices: Bridget M. McCormack Brian K. Zahra David F. Viviano Richard H. Bernstein Elizabeth T. Clement Megan K. Cavanagh Elizabeth M. Welch This syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been Reporter of Decisions: prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. Kathryn L. Loomis ROUCH WORLD, LLC v DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS Docket No. 162482. Argued March 2, 2022. Decided July 28, 2022. Rouch World, LLC, and Uprooted Electrolysis, LLC, brought an action in the Court of Claims against the Department of Civil Rights and its director, seeking, among other relief, a declaratory judgment that the prohibition of sex discrimination in places of public accommodation under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), MCL 37.2101 et seq., did not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The owners of Rouch World had denied a request to host the same-sex wedding of Natalie Johnson and Megan Oswalt at their facility, claiming that doing so would violate their religious beliefs. The owner of Uprooted Electrolysis had denied hair-removal services to Marissa Wolfe, a transgender woman, on the same basis. Johnson, Oswald, and Wolfe filed complaints with the Department of Civil Rights, which had issued an interpretive statement in 2018 indicating that the ELCRA’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex included sexual orientation and gender identity. The Department of Civil Rights opened an investigation into both of these incidents, but the investigations were stayed when plaintiffs brought this action. Defendants moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8). The Court of Claims, CHRISTOPHER M. MURRAY, J., concluded that it was bound to follow Barbour v Dep’t of Social Servs, 198 Mich App 183 (1993), which had relied largely on then-current federal precedent regarding analogous provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 USC 2000e et seq., to conclude that the ELCRA’s discrimination prohibition did not encompass sexual orientation. The Court of Claims therefore denied defendants’ motion for summary disposition as applied to plaintiff Rouch World’s arguments. However, because Barbour did not concern gender-identity discrimination, the Court of Claims ruled that when a person discriminates against someone who identifies with a gender different than that assigned at birth, then that is dissimilar treatment on the basis of sex and is prohibited under the ELCRA. In so concluding, the Court of Claims relied, in part, on the United States Supreme Court decision in Bostock v Clayton Co, 590 US ___, ___; 140 S Ct 1731 (2020), wherein the Court held that an employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires a person on the basis of their homosexuality or transgender identity because doing so necessarily involves discrimination based on sex. Accordingly, the Court of Claims granted defendants’ motion for summary disposition as to plaintiff Uprooted Electrolysis’s arguments. Defendants filed an interlocutory application for leave to appeal in the Court of Appeals, challenging the rejection of summary disposition as to Rouch World. Defendants then filed a …

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