Dept. of Civil Rights issues discriminatory charge to Traverse City salon for anti-trans posts ⋆
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) has issued a charge of discrimination against Studio 8 Hair Lab, the Traverse City salon that drew national attention in July for anti-trans online posts made by its owner, Christine Geiger.
Geiger declared in an initial Facebook post in July that her salon would deny service to transgender and nonbinary people and said that she was protected by “free speech.”
“If a human identifies as anything other than a man/woman please seek services at a local pet groomer,” Geiger wrote in the post. “You are not welcome at this salon.”
Studio 8 Hair Lab Facebook post
The charge reasoned that Michigan law “makes it is unlawful for Studio 8 to print, circulate, post, mail, or otherwise cause to be published” a statement which indicates that the “full and equal enjoyment” of goods or services will be refused because of sex, or that an individual’s patronage is “objectionable, unwelcome, unacceptable, or undesirable” for the same reason.
In a Wednesday morning press conference, MDCR Director John Johnson said that Geiger’s post, and subsequent doubling down on her stances, were in violation of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA).
“This is not a complicated case,” Johnson said. “It is not a case that relies on complex legal concepts or that requires expensive or convoluted arguments to explain. Christine Geiger has responsibilities under law as the owner of a business offering services to the public in the state of Michigan.”
The Advance called Geiger for comment at the salon, but the voicemail was full.
MDCR officials said that the charge is one of unlawful advertisement, not free speech. According to the charge, even though Geiger didn’t physically remove someone from her salon based on their gender identity, the posts she made still negatively impacted LGBTQ+ members of the community.
“As a direct and proximate result of Respondent’s unlawful discrimination, Claimants L.M., H.S. and M.H. have suffered the loss of full and equal enjoyment of a public accommodation due to Respondent’s published statements,” the charge read.
MDCR Director of Enforcement Marcellina Trevino said that the department’s investigative process was followed to determine whether there was cause for a charge of discrimination, including trying to facilitate a conciliatory meeting with Geiger.
“Our staff attorney attempted to set up a meeting with [Geiger] to address the issues in the complaint and to go over the sufficient evidence that we found,” Trevino said. “To our dismay, the respondent refused to participate in conciliation, and therefore our staff attorney drafted a charge which was filed this morning with the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules.”
Geiger filed her own lawsuit on Oct. 25 against the city of Traverse City and the three individuals who submitted complaints to the MDCR, citing her business’s right to “use its talents and the expressive platform they have to celebrate and promote God’s design for male and female.”
While MDCR officials were unable to comment on Geiger’s ongoing lawsuit, Trevino said that the three complainants, two of whom are nonbinary, are protected from certain forms of retaliation under ELCRA.
‘Welcoming people exist here’: Traverse City reacts to anti-trans salon policy
“Under the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, there are protections against retaliation for participating in a protected activity, such as filing an unlawful discrimination complaint with our department,” Trevino said.
The next step for the Studio 8 case will be awaiting a hearing before an administrative law judge. The MDCR’s charge requests that Geiger pay the claimants for emotional distress and “mental anguish” her posts caused. If decided after a hearing, Studio 8 and Geiger could have state licensing certifications revoked based on violation of ELCRA.
MDCR Director of Legal Affairs Bryant Osikowicz said that the charge shouldn’t be misconstrued as an issue of religion or freedom of speech.
“I will just say that free speech is not absolute,” Osikowicz said. “The classic example from law school is you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, that type of thing, and we were very specific in this charge. This is not a free speech case. This is a discriminatory advertisement case.”
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authored by Lily Guiney
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F11%2F15%2Fdept-of-civil-rights-issues-discriminatory-charge-to-traverse-city-salon-for-anti-trans-posts%2F