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Michigan salon faces discrimination charge over owner's comments on gender identity

CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for Nov. 15, 2023
CBS News Detroit Digital Brief for Nov. 15, 2023 03:05

A hair salon in northern Michigan is facing a discrimination charge from the state's Department of Civil Rights after its owner posted on social media earlier this year that anyone identifying as other than a man or a woman is not welcome at her business.

The department claims in the charge filed Wednesday that Traverse City's Studio 8 Hair Lab violated the state's civil rights act in a Facebook post in July from its owner, Christine Geiger, by unlawfully discriminating against three claimants.

The post, which is no longer available, read, "If a human identifies as anything other than a man/woman please seek services at a local pet groomer. 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.'"

A hearing will now be scheduled before an administrative law judge, who will issue a recommendation after hearing the merits of the complaint, according to the civil rights department. The recommendation will then go before Michigan's Civil Rights Commission to either adopt or make their own ruling.

Penalties, according to the complaint, could include monetary compensation for the claimants' emotional distress and mental anguish sustained by the discrimination. The department allows for any other relief "as the commission seems just and proper," which could include additional fees and a recommendation that the business' license be suspended.

Geiger, who did not respond to a request for comment by email, filed her own complaint against the city of Traverse City and the three individuals on Oct. 25. The complaint accuses the city and three of its residents of violating the salon's First Amendment rights for filing civil rights complaints, according to the lawsuit obtained by The Associated Press.

Her attorney, David DeLaney, told AP that Geiger was exercising free speech and that the comments reflected her "religious beliefs." He added that Geiger never physically blocked anyone from entering her business.

In a July interview with The Associated Press, Geiger stood by her posts and said small business owners should be free to serve whomever they wish.

"I just don't want the woke dollar. ... I'd rather not be as busy than to have to do services that I don't agree with."

Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public services based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status.

John E. Johnson Jr., the executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, told reporters Wednesday that Studio 8 violated the law by "denying their services based on sex."

The civil rights act was amended earlier this year by the Michigan Legislature to further add protections for sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The legislation was not given immediate effect, which would have required Republican lawmakers to side with the Democratic majority, and won't take effect until February 2024.

Marcelina Trevino, the director of enforcement for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said Wednesday that the department has "been taking complaints and have jurisdiction under sex for both sexual orientation as well as gender identity or expression under case law," defined by previous rulings from Michigan's Court of Claims and state Supreme Court.

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