Friday, March 17, 2006
Case Law Development: Physician's Denial of Lesbian's Artificial Insemination Did Not Violate California Civil Rights Act if Based on Her Unmarried Status
The California Court of Appeals has reversed a trial court's summary adjudication of defendants First Amendment defense in a case alleging violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The case involved a lesbian fertility patient who sued her a medical group and physicians, when the physicians refused to perform intrauterine insemination. The patient alleged that the physicians refused to provide treatment because she was a lesbian, and petitioners responded with an affirmative defense of free exercise of religion. On appeal, the court reversed the summary adjudication of that defense, finding that petitioners raised a triable issue as to whether the religiously-based refusal to perform IUI was based on the patient's marital status, rather than her sexual orientation. The court found that marital status discrimination was not prohibited by the Unruh Act when the alleged violation occurred. Further, a subsequent statutory amendment and subsequent case law addressing marital-status discrimination under the Unruh Act effected changes in the law that operated prospectively only. Although the bill in question included a legislative declaration that the amendment clarified, rather than changed, the Unruh Act, the court concluded that the statute did change the law because the settled case law had been that the Unruh Act did not apply to marital-status discrimination. Retroactive application was inappropriate because it would have imposed liability for actions not subject to liability when taken. Thus, the court issued a writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its order granting summary adjudication on the physicians' religion-based defense and to enter an order denying the motion for summary adjudication as to the physicians.
North Coast Women's Care Med. Group, Inc. v. Superior Court of San Diego County/Benitez, 2006 Cal. App. LEXIS 338 (March 14, 2006)
Opinion on the web (last visited March 15, 2006 bgf)