Attorney General James Takes Action to Stop Discrimination Against Transgender Americans

AG James Joins Coalition of 18 Attorneys General Calling on Colorado Supreme Court to Side with Transgender Customer Suing Masterpiece Cakeshop for Discrimination

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James joined a multistate coalition of 18 attorneys general urging the Colorado Supreme Court to affirm a lower court’s ruling that a Colorado baker violated the state’s antidiscrimination law when he denied service to a transgender customer. Jack Phillips and his bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, which was previously the subject of a United States Supreme Court decision about its refusal to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, refused to provide a cake for a transgender customer upon learning the cake would be used to celebrate her transition. The coalition of attorneys general filed an amicus brief with the Colorado Supreme Court calling on the Court to uphold a lower court’s ruling in favor of the customer, Autumn Scardina, who sued Masterpiece Cakeshop for discrimination. 

“Denying service to someone simply because of who they are is illegal discrimination, plain and simple,” said Attorney General James. “Allowing this kind of behavior would undermine our nation’s fundamental values of freedom and equality, and set a dangerous precedent. I am proud to stand with my fellow attorneys general against this blatant transphobic discrimination.” 

The case originated in 2018 when Autumn Scardina called Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a plain pink cake with blue frosting. When Scardina revealed that the cake was meant to celebrate her transition in addition to her birthday, she was told that the bakery would not make the cake “because of the message.” Scardina sued Masterpiece Cakeshop in state court alleging violations of Colorado’s public accommodations law, which protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of race, sexual orientation, religion, sex, and other protected characteristics. The court ruled in favor of Scardina, and the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, noting that Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, objected to making the cake only after he learned of Scardina’s intended use for it, and that Phillips did not believe the cake itself expressed any inherent message. In October 2023, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. 

In the amicus brief filed with the Colorado Supreme Court, Attorney General James and the coalition of attorneys general argued that state public accommodation laws banning public businesses from denying services based on protected characteristics like race, religion, gender identity, and disability status are an important part of preventing discrimination. The brief noted that the United States Supreme Court has long recognized that these laws serve states’ interests in protecting their residents. 

The coalition further emphasized that the kind of discrimination practiced by Masterpiece Cakeshop’s owner is particularly harmful, not only to the individuals to whom they deny service, but to the broader economy. A segregated market denies Americans — particularly those in marginalized communities — equal access to the goods and services they need, undermining the promise of a free and equal society. It also encourages stigmatization and isolation of the victims of discrimination, increasing risks to their physical and mental health. As the coalition noted, LGBTQ+ Americans are much more likely to be bullied, harassed, and attacked in hate crimes, and that discrimination has severe negative health impacts on LGBTQ+ people, including increased rates of mental health disorders and suicide attempts, especially for young people. Notably, civil rights laws that protect LGBTQ+ Americans have been shown to decrease these health risks. The coalition’s brief concluded by cautioning that a ruling in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop would expose transgender and other marginalized people to a broad array of discrimination from public businesses. 

Attorney General James has been a national leader in the fight to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination. In May 2023, Attorney General James led a coalition of 12 attorneys general in support of robust anti-discrimination protections for transgender students at the federal level. In April 2023, Attorney General James led a coalition of 18 attorneys general to support a student challenging a West Virginia law banning transgender students from participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity. In December 2022, Attorney General James led a coalition of 16 attorneys general to support equal access to gender-affirming care in West Virginia. In November 2022, Attorney General James led a coalition of 17 attorneys general to support transgender students seeking to participate in sex-segregated school sports consistent with their gender identity in Indiana. In 2021, Attorney General James successfully prevented a New York wedding photographer from discriminating against LGBTQ+ couples. Attorney General James has led coalitions of attorneys general to challenge policies prohibiting transgender students from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity in IndianaFlorida, and Virginia.

Joining Attorney General James in filing the brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia. 

This matter was handled by Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey W. Lang under the supervision of Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood.