The Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) has launched a discrimination lawsuit against a Traverse City-based hair salon after the owner referred transgender clients to a “pet groomer.” Studio 8 Hair Lab is being pursued following three formal complaints from LGBT patrons.
In July, salon owner Christine Geiger took to Facebook to state she was unwilling to serve those who identified as “anything other than a man/woman,” referring those customers to “a local pet groomer” instead.
She continued: “You are not welcome at this salon period … Should you request to have a particular pronoun used, please note we may simply refer to you as ‘hey you.'”
In her post, Geiger said she was taking a stand “regardless of MI HIB 4744,” a newly-introduced hate crime bill seeking extended, clarified protections against discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics. She also invited the state’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, to “kiss my ass.”
But on November 15, the MDCR announced it was filing a suit against Geiger and her salon on the basis of “unlawful discrimination in a place of public accommodation.”
According to the text of the suit, reviewed by The Publica, three unnamed individuals “viewed” Geiger’s Facebook post on July 7, one of whom identifies as “female” and two of whom identify as “non-binary.” The three then complained to the MDCR, which asserts that Geiger’s post resulted in them experiencing “mental anguish and emotional distress.”
Additional Facebook posts by Geiger were also called into legal consideration, with screenshots being provided of multiple other statements Geiger has made on gender ideology.
The suit also claims that the respondents “suffered the loss of full and equal enjoyment of a public accommodation due to [Geiger’s] published statements.”
Requested relief includes monetary compensation, attorney and witness fees (if applicable), and the full use of Geiger’s services without further discrimination.
“This is not a complicated case,” said John E. Johnson, Jr., Executive Director of the MDCR during a press conference yesterday. “It is not a case that relies on complex legal concepts or requires expansive or convoluted arguments to explain. But none of that is to say it is not an important case. It is.”
In his speech, Johnson also conflated discrimination based on biological sex and that premised on “gender identity,” stating:
“In this case, the truth is that Studio 8 through its owner openly and repeatedly violated the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act by stating in published comments that they would deny services to individuals based on sex – specifically in this case, gender identity.”
Geiger has yet to issue a public comment on the suit, but her Facebook, which is still active, shows she has overtly conservative-leaning politics and frequently posts her opposition to vaccinations, Democrat politicians, and gender ideology.
Michigan is pursuing Geiger on the basis of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations. The definition of “public accommodations” includes any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public. The business does not have to bar someone from entering on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression to be in violation of the law.
Under ELCRA, it is a violation to print, post, or publish a statement or notice which indicates that the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services and facilities of a public accommodation will be refused to an individual because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, or marital status, or that an individual’s patronage of a place of public accommodation is objectionable, unwelcome, or undesirable because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, or marital status.
Now that charges have been filed, an administrative law judge (ALJ) will set a date for a public hearing. At the hearing, witnesses testify under oath, the rules of evidence apply, and all parties have the right to cross examine witnesses.
Following the hearing, the judge will provide a recommendation as to whether discrimination took place and if so, what the appropriate penalty should be. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission will then review the recommendation. The Commission may adopt the judge’s recommendation, draft its own opinion based on the recommendation, and/or require an additional hearing in front of the Commission.
The Commission will issue a final determination and order, which may include but is not limited to adopting the judge’s recommendation as its own, dismissing the case, and/or requiring corrective action that may include paying damages.