Lexington, Ky. (CBS CLEVELAND) — A Lexington human rights commission has ruled that a t-shirt company unlawfully discriminated against a gay organization in its refusal to print the group’s Lexington Pride Festival shirts – and has ordered the company employees to undergo diversity training.
Greg Munson, of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, ruled on Tuesday that Hands On Originals’ refusal to print gay pride festival shirts in 2012 did not violate the vendor’s right to free speech and the free exercise of religion, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. Hands On Originals had argued that its refusal was because it is a Christian company and disagreed with the message of the shirt – a stylized numeral 5 with rainbow colors and a list of sponsors for the “Lexington Pride Festival.”
The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization found that the company violated the city’s fairness ordinance, which prohibits public businesses from discriminating against people based upon their sexual orientation. In documents released by both the GLSO and Hands On Originals, the commission noted that the t-shirt company should cease “discriminating because of sexual orientation.”
“The evidence of record shows that the respondent discriminated against GLSO because of its members’ actual or imputed sexual orientation by refusing to print and sell to them the official shirts for the 2012 Lexington Pride Festival,” said Munson.
In March 2012, the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization filed the complaint against Hands On Originals, saying the Christian organization had discriminated against them in their refusal to print the shirts.
“We are happy to finally have a declaration from the Human Rights Commission that Hands On Originals did discriminate and they should refrain from discriminating in the future,” said Aaron Baker, the GLSO’s president. “In some sense, I feel like we’ve gotten what we were looking for since the Human Rights Commission has agreed with us.”
The law doesn’t allow for punitive damages, but compensatory damages account for things such as the cost of time spent researching other t-shirt printers or higher costs using a different company. Because of this case’s publicity, the GLSO received the t-shirts for free from the Cincinnati company Cincy Apparel.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented Hands On Originals, released a statement of its disappointment with the Lexington commission’s ruling, noting that it would also require printers to do business with groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church, or other extreme organizations.
“No one should be forced by the government — or by another citizen — to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jim Campbell, who argued before the hearing examiner on behalf of Hands On Originals on June 19.
The ruling dictates that Hands On Originals must not discriminate in the future and that company employees must undergo diversity training within the next year.