The Oregon bakery owners who ignited a national controversy by refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple on Monday quietly paid a state-ordered $135,000 damages award and then some.
Aaron Klein, co-owner of the shuttered Sweet Cakes by Melissa, walked into the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries’ Portland office and handed over a check for $136,927.07, an amount including accrued interest, agency spokesman Charlie Burr said.
Earlier this month, the labor bureau recovered nearly $7,000 additional funds from the Kleins with the help of the state Department of Justice and a private collections agency, Burr said. The money came from a garnished bank account, he said.
Aaron and Melissa Klein had refused to pay damages of $135,000 to Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, claiming financial hardship despite three online fundraising accounts set up by supporters that netted them at least $515,000 as of late September.
On July 2, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian ordered the Kleins to pay damages for emotional and mental suffering, saying they had violated the women’s civil rights by discriminating on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Rachel Bowman-Cryer visited the Gresham bakery with her mother in January 2013 to order a cake for a civil commitment ceremony. Aaron Klein, working alone that day, turned her away, citing his Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.
The women filed complaints with the state, triggering a national debate over the Kleins’ claims of religious freedom in the face of anti-discrimination laws that require Oregon businesses to serve the public equally.
Tyler Smith, a Canby attorney representing the Kleins, said payment of the debt does not mean his clients have abandoned their appeal of Avakian’s order. The Oregon Court of Appeals is likely to hear arguments next year but Smith said it made sense to pay now while the case is pending rather than incur additional interest charges.
The bureau “was attempting to charge interest rates of 9 percent, equating to $35 a day, and seeking to garnish any assets of the Kleins so they couldn’t earn interest on the money that had been donated to them,” Smith said. “The prudent thing to do, given the generosity of people who have contributed funds, was to take care of it and continue the fight.”
Through their lawyers, the Kleins twice asked Avakian for a stay to delay enforcement of his order while the Court of Appeals considers their case. The commissioner rejected the requests on July 14 and again July 24, citing the amounts raised for the Kleins from crowdfunding sites. State officials subsequently went to court to establish their right to place a property lien or other assets belonging to the couple.
“We certainly wish (the bureau) would have stayed collections efforts during the course of the appeal,” Smith said.
Altogether, the state has received roughly $144,000 from the Kleins – an amount that Burr acknowledged might be in excess of what was owed as of Monday, Dec. 28.
“We have been in touch with their lawyers throughout the process,” Burr said, providing them with exact amounts due to satisfy the debt. The figure has changed from day to day because of accruing interest.
If the Kleins have overpaid, the agency will look at returning the difference, Burr said. The Kleins closed their Gresham bakery in 2013 and now operate out of their home in Sandy.
Paul Thompson, a Portland lawyer representing the Bowman-Cryers, said, “My clients are happy the Kleins paid the fine and are moving forward, and hope to see the ruling upheld on appeal.”
— George Rede