FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | April 10, 2007
Federal Court Permits Gay Couple to Sue Internet Adoption Business Under California Discrimination Law
(San Francisco, CA, April 10, 2007) — Federal district court judge Phyllis J. Hamilton has ruled that Michael and Rich Butler, a San Jose gay couple, can move to trial in their discrimination suit against an internet business known as Adoption.com and Adoption Profiles LLC. The business is owned by Arizona residents Nathan and Dale Gwilliam, who are also named in the suit.
The defendants charge a fee for permitting prospective adoptive parents to post internet profiles, which are then viewed by birth mothers seeking to place their children for adoption. The Butlers alleged that the defendants violated California law by refusing to permit same-sex couples to use the profiling service. The Butlers, who are represented by Orrick and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), alleged that the defendants' policy of refusing services to same-sex couples unlawfully discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, marital status, and sex.
"We are very pleased with the ruling," said Michael Butler, one of the plaintiffs in the case. "When the Gwilliams refused to post our profile because we are a same-sex couple, we were very upset. But this case is not just about our family. It is about protecting everyone from discriminatory business practices."
In her ruling, Judge Hamilton rejected the defendants' argument that they are not bound by California law because they are an internet business based in Arizona and do not have any physical offices or staff located in California.
Judge Hamilton stated: "When an out-of-state business solicits California and does business with customers living in California, California has an interest in ensuring that the out-of-state business does not discriminate against the California customers."
"By every objective measure, the Adoption.com website does more business with Californians than with any other state in the Country," said Neel Chatterjee, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutfcliffe who represents the Butlers in the case. "This ruling recognizes California's strong interest in protecting its residents against arbitrary discrimination by businesses who decide to transact business in this state."
Judge Hamilton also rejected the Gwilliams' claim that requiring them to comply with California's anti-discrimination laws would violate their constitutional right to freedom of speech.
Judge Hamilton ruled: "Plaintiffs are not seeking to place any restrictions on what defendants are permitted to say or to compel them to say anything. It is the discriminatory conduct that is at issue here Ð defendants' refusal to do business with the plaintiffs, based on their sexual orientation and/or marital status." "This ruling is a tremendous victory for California consumers," said Shannon Minter, NCLR's legal director, who also represents the Butlers. "The First Amendment protects speech, not discriminatory conduct. If business owners could get away with refusing to serve certain groups just by claiming a right to express discriminatory beliefs, there would be no civil rights protections."
Because of Judge Hamilton's ruling, the Butlers can now proceed to trial to prove their claims that the Gwilliams' refusal to provide them with services was based on an intentional policy of discriminating based on sexual orientation, marital status, and sex.
"We are looking forward to the trial," said Rich Butler, the other plaintiff in the case. "It has taken more than five years to reach this point, and we are ready to present our case in trial. We hope to put this discriminatory policy to an end."
Orrick, Harrington & Sutcliffe LLP is a global law firm with 980 lawyers in North America, Europe and Asia. The firm focuses on litigation, complex and novel finance and innovative corporate transactions. Orrick clients include Fortune 100 companies, major industrial and financial corporations, commercial and investment banks, high-growth companies, governmental entities, start-ups and individuals. The firm's 18 offices are located in Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Moscow, New York, Orange County, Pacific Northwest, Paris, Rome, Sacramento, San Francisco, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Taipei, Tokyo and Washington, D.C.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.
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