Why the Supreme Court bakery ruling raises more questions than it answers


The recent Supreme Court ruling on the Masterpiece Cakes v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission brings questions about both business regulation and bias claims, and two Penn professors weighed in recently on the ruling. The 7-2 decision in favor of Masterpiece Cakes was not a reflection of the court’s opinion on LGBTQ rights, but, rather, religious discrimination. While a gay couple had filed a discrimination suit against Jack Phillips for refusing his services, the Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission itself committed religious discrimination against the baker, who claimed religious freedom to deny service. The lower court ruled in favor of the couple, and the baker’s appeal went to the Supreme Court. 

The ruling brings to light the issue of bias and how to prove intent or claims of bias. According to business ethics professor Amy Sepinwall, “The case leaves open a good number of the most difficult and important issues, and the court is likely to see those in the very near future.” 

Phillips’ argument, which the Supreme Court sided with, is that his case was not brought before an unbiased tribunal. The question of intent, therefore, becomes the framework for the litigant. Penn Law professor Tobias Wolff argues that the question that remains after the ruling is intent. “One of the things I think we’re going to be talking about going forward in relation to this ruling is what impact it has on the evidentiary standards that you have to satisfy when you're making a claim of bias.” However, one takeaway from the case is clear. “Where there’s a dispute about whether a business improperly turned a customer away,” says Wolff, “they need to have a neutral and unbiased tribunal decide that question.”

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.