Mt. Hood specialty cake designer, Pam Regentin, owner of Fleur Cakes, has made national news, following another Oregon business, “Sweet Cakes” of Gresham, in deciding against providing a wedding cake to a same sex couple.
The incident occurred this week when Katie Pugh, a naturopathic physician contacted Regentin to arrange for a wedding cake for an upcoming ceremony in Hood River. Pugh was communicating by phone and then follow-up email when she used the word “she,” referring to her partner, Erin Hansen. The couple is from Portland.
According to statements by Pugh on KATU, Regentin then contacted her back and asked if the wedding was for a same sex marriage. Pugh confirmed that it was.
Pugh stated that Regentin then informed her that she would not provide the cake. When Pugh asked if it was because they were a same sex couple, Regentin allegedly confirmed that was the reason.
Regentin recalls the conversation differently and since then a nightmare of media frenzy has spun out of control, affecting her family and her business.
In news reports aired by reporter Dan Cassuto of KATU and quoted nationwide, Regentin reportedly was asked if she knew she was discriminating by refusing to serve the couple based on their sexual orientation. Cassuto presents a brief phone recording of Regentin stating, “I believe I have the liberty to live by my principles,” sequentially appearing as if in response to his direct question.
When reached by phone on May 17, Regentin stated the following:
“The news reporter contacted me unexpectedly and asked me for a statement and asked to record our conversation. I declined.
“After pressure to make a statement I agreed and I gave him a statement that he recorded. It was not in connection to any of his questions. I declined to answer his questions about the law without consulting a lawyer.
“My words in the newscast were truncated to the beginning of the sentence without the context of my statement and edited to look as if they were in response to his questions.
“I am being misrepresented in the media. Katie Pugh and I had a very civil conversation but her words were also edited. She (Pugh) told them that I was a lovely person but those words were edited to depict me in a certain way to the public.
“I have reached out personally to Katie Pugh to meet face to face to discuss our differences in a human and personal way without the media spectacle – without the media circus going on.
“I did not discriminate against her based on her sexual orientation. I told her I was willing to make her a birthday cake or anything else that she wanted but I could not provide her a wedding cake when same sex marriage was not legal in Oregon.
“I told her same sex marriages are not legal in Oregon and I’m not providing wedding cakes for same sex marriages,” said Regentin.
Regentin has provided a full statement to the News, which may be found on the opinion page, A4.
Regentin’s business, though serving the public, is operated out of her home. Since the news broke, she reports she has been receiving harassing phone calls and emails, and a Facebook page has been set up boycotting Fleur Cakes. None of the harassment is from Pugh or Hansen, who have remained civil with Regentin.
In a May 17 phone interview with Erin Hansen, Pugh’s partner (Pugh was out of town at the time of the interview), the couple clarified that it was a friend who tipped off KATU to the alleged discrimination. The reporter then contacted them while already driving to Hood River for the story.
“We talked it over and decided to talk to them (KATU) ourselves. We wanted to put as positive a spin on it as possible – we wanted to let people know that – not let KATU push through the story,” said Hansen.
“We have decided that we are not going to pursue a lawsuit. We hope that this can turn into a respectful conversation between people of differing viewpoints,” said Hansen, who has not yet set up a time to meet with Regentin.
Hansen acknowledged that Regentin had emailed requesting a meeting with them.
“We also want a more global conversation,” added Hansen.
“This situation took on a life of its own immediately and it just seems like the country is ready to have a deeper conversation on the issue because it keeps occurring in different places across the country.
“What we want is to represent our community in the most positive light that we can. We don’t want to put Pam out of business or hurt her financially,” she said.
Upon learning that Regentin had been experiencing email and phone call harassment since the news broke, Hansen said, “It was never our intention for Pam to be threatened or to not feel safe in her own community. This is horrible. We did not want Pam to lose her business or be hurt financially. We love to have support but in a more positive light.”
Jeff Manning, communications director of the Oregon Department of Justice confirmed by phone interview that, “If you are a business owner you are allowed to refuse service – you know: no shirt, no shoes, no service – it’s completely legal. Only, it’s not legal when the person being denied service is a member of a protected class.”
Though not a lawyer, Manning did not believe that home based businesses would be exempt from the law. He suggested the Bureau of Labor and Industries for additional specifics on how the law would apply to home businesses, but no representatives returned the News’ calls for comment.
According to Manning, if the businessperson clearly states that the denial is tied to the person’s protected status, that becomes discrimination – an action prohibited in Oregon under ORS 659A.403 and actionable under the BOLI consumer protection department.
Protected class status applies to identified race, color, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age.
For Regentin, the legal questions over her business decision now rest in the hands of others. For her family and business, the repercussions from the media frenzy are already taking their toll.