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District judge says Masterpiece Cakeshop owner's lawsuit against Colorado can continue

Within weeks of winning his Supreme Court case against the Colorado Civil Rights Division, the commission accused Jack Phillips of discrimination again, this time because he would not make a cake celebrating a woman's gender transition.

A federal judge ordered Friday that the lawsuit Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips filed against the state of Colorado can continue.

Phillips, who after six years of legal battles, won a Supreme Court case on June 4, 2018, after the Colorado Civil Rights Division found he discriminated against a gay couple who'd asked for a wedding cake from his shop in 2012.

The suit asks that the commission be barred from ever bringing a specific set of discrimination claims against him again, a pronouncement that the defendants violated his First and Fourteenth Amendments and compensatory, punitive and nominal damages from Colorado Civil Rights Division Director Aubrey Elenis and seven civil rights commissioners. 

The court filing also says that the state ordered Phillips to either violate his religious beliefs or shut down his wedding cake business. As a result, Phillips' family lost 40 percent of their income. 

This suit is unrelated to the Supreme Court case. Instead, it focuses on another instance of alleged discrimination by Phillips and his employees at Masterpiece in Lakewood, Colo., according to court documents filed on Friday. 

In June 2017, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission informed Phillips that his businesses had committed discrimination against a woman who hoped to celebrate her transition from male to female on her birthday. She'd called the business a month prior, asking to have a cake made with a blue exterior and a pink interior, according to the original complaint filed by the commission against Phillips.

Phillips and his staff refused to make the cake, according to the motion from Senior Judge Wiley Young Daniel, citing Phillips' believe that "[Masterpiece] will not provide the service of creating cakes that 'promote the idea that a person's sex is anything other than an immutable God-given biological reality."

Phillips filed the suit against seven staffers of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Directory of the Colorado Civil Rights Division Director Elenis, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Aug. 14, 2018, just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled in Phillips' favor.

RELATED | Masterpiece Cakeshop owner sues governor, Co Civil Rights Division over 'hostility toward his faith'

Hickenlooper and Coffman are being sued in their professional capacity, while seven members of the Civil Rights Commission and Elenis are being sued in both their professional and private capacity.

On Nov. 6 of last year, Hickenlooper and the other defendants asked for the suit to be dismissed. On Friday, Judge Daniel granted only part of their request.

According to court documents, Daniel has granted Hickenlooper's request for the claims against him to be removed and he's been dismissed from the case. Inversely, Coffman's request for the claims against her to be removed has been denied.

Phillips initially named Hickenlooper in the case because the governor appoints the members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. However, Daniel decided in his motion that Phillips failed to show how Hickenlooper had a direct hand in the alleged discrimination and dropped him from the suit.

For Coffman, however, as Attorney General, she represents the commission in legal proceedings and therefore has a direct link to the commission's actions toward Phillips and will remain as a defendant, the motion said.

Elenis' and the seven commissioners' requests to have the claims against them for compensatory, punitive and nominal damages have been granted, the court documents say. However, the defendants' request for the suit to be tossed out for lack of standing has been denied.

Per Daniel, Elenis and the other commissioners are protected by "absolute immunity" and therefore will not have to pay for any damages. His reasoning, based on past court cases and state and federal law, is that those in a regulatory board or commission - such as medical licensing or civil rights - need to be able to do their job without fear of retribution. 

Phillips, according to Daniel, has legal standing to sue the state over their enforcement of several anti-discrimination laws.

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