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Departments of Attorney General, Civil Rights Prevail in Motion to Dismiss in Studio 8 ELCRA Challenge

LANSING Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has announced that the Grand Traverse County Circuit Court dismissed all claims filed by Studio 8 Hair Salon, LLC, against Traverse City, the individuals who filed complaints with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR), and the MDCR. The Department of Attorney General had moved in February to dismiss the claims.

In the summer of 2023, Studio 8 posted to their social accounts to say that [anyone that] “identifies as anything other than a man/woman please seek services at a local pet groomer. You are not welcome at this salon.” Multiple residents filed complaints of discrimination with the MDCR which led to Studio 8 filing suit in the Grand Traverse Circuit Court against Traverse City and the Michigan residents who filed the complaints, allegedly seeking to challenge the constitutionality of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA).

"The Circuit Court was the wrong forum for this challenge, and I am pleased with the court’s decision on this matter,” said Nessel. “Furthermore, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act protects Michigan residents from discrimination in public accommodations and provides an administrative process when the law is not followed. This decision reinforces that transgender people are protected by the ELCRA, that hair services do not constitute religious speech and that attempts to harass or silence members of the public for speaking out against discrimination will not be tolerated.”

The ELCRA prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, which includes businesses that provide goods or services to the public. A business does not have to deny someone services on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression to be in violation of the law, as discriminatory advertising is also prohibited. Studio 8 sought to challenge the constitutionality of the ELCRA’s protections from discrimination based on gender identity and expression resulting from the decisions in the groundbreaking case Rouch World, LLC, et al v Dep’t of Civil Rights, and recent amendments enacted by the Michigan Legislature. Studio 8 argued that these new protections violate free speech and religious freedoms.  

In dismissing the case, the Grand Traverse County Circuit Court determined that Studio 8 had filed its claims against the MDCR in the wrong forum. Regarding the individual complainants, Judge Kevin A. Elsenheimer ruled that Studio 8’s “primary purpose in initiating the action against the [individual claimants] was to harass, intimidate, threaten and/or retaliate against [them] as complainants in the MDCR’s matter.” He further held the claims against them were frivolous and indicated they were entitled to costs and attorney fees. The court also dismissed the claims against Traverse City, concluding that there was controversy because the City had taken no action against Studio 8 under the City’s antidiscrimination ordinance.

“We are gratified that the Court recognized Studio 8’s contentions for what they were: a blatant attempt by the salon to harass, intimidate and threaten the people who filed complaints of discrimination against them," said John E. Johnson, Jr., Executive Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. "The Court’s decision has implications for any business that decides to respond to a complaint by retaliating against the individual who filed it.”

In reaching its decision, the court found that the statements made by Studio 8 owner Christine Geiger were different in kind from those the U.S. Supreme Court found protected in its decision in 303 Creative, LLC v Elenis because the provision of hair services does not constitute expression protected by the First Amendment, “In 303 Creative, the plaintiffs stipulated that the owner was willing to work with all people regardless of sexual orientation or other protected classifications, whereas here, the Plaintiff’s Facebook post indicated that she will not provide services to transgender individuals.” The opinion continued to differentiate between this case and 303 Creative by stating, “In this case, Plaintiff is providing hair services and products that do not contain images, words, symbols or other modes of expression.”

A copy of the order can be found here.


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