Law School Case Brief
Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock - 2013-NMSC-040, 309 P.3d 53
The New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA), N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 28-1-1 to 28-1-13 (1969, as amended through 2007) prohibits public accommodations from making any distinction in the services they offer to customers on the basis of protected classifications. N.M. Stat. Ann. § 28-1-7(F). The NMHRA does not permit businesses to offer a limited menu of goods or services to customers on the basis of a status that fits within one of the protected categories.
The New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA) prohibited public accommodations from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation. Elane Photography, offered wedding photography services to the general public and posted its photographs on a password-protected website for its customers. Vanessa Willock contacted Elane Photography to inquire if the latter would be available to photograph her commitment ceremony to another woman. Elane Photography's co-owner and lead photographer, Elaine Huguenin, was personally opposed to same-sex marriage and did not photograph any image or event that violated her religious beliefs. Huguenin informed Willock that they do not offer their services to same-sex couples. Willock filed a discrimination complaint against Elane Photography with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission for discriminating against her based on her sexual orientation in violation of the NMHRA. The Commission concluded that Elane Photography had discriminated against Willock in violation of Section 28-1-7(F), which prohibited discrimination by public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, among other protected classifications. It awarded Willock attorneys' fees, which Willock later waived. No other monetary or injunctive relief was granted. Elane Photography appealed to the Second Judicial District Court for a new trial. Elane Photography sought a reversal of the award of attorneys' fees, a declaratory judgment that it had not discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation, and a ruling that its rights had been violated, among other relief. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the district court granted summary judgment for Willock. Elane Photography again appealed, and the New Mexico Court of Appeals affirmed.
Did Elane Photography violate the NMHRA when it refused to photograph the commitment ceremony?
The Supreme Court of New Mexico held that Elane Phtogoraphy, in refusing to photograph the same-sex marriage of Willock to her partner, violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act because there was no basis to distinguish between basing discrimination on sexual orientation versus basing discrimination on the conduct of publicly committing to a person of the same sex. According to the court, requiring that the business not discriminate against same-sex commitment ceremonies did not violate its right under U.S. Const. amend. I to refrain from speaking.
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