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Feb 28 2013

Dawkins Lawsuit Settled in Michigan

I’m sure many of you have heard about the lawsuit that was filed by CFI – Michigan (full disclosure: I’m on the advisory board) and the national CFI office against a country club that breached a contract they had signed to hold a dinner with Richard Dawkins at their facility. CFI put out an official statement about it on Tuesday:

A Michigan country club that cancelled an event by the Center for Inquiry (CFI), allegedly because of the speaker’s and attendees’ atheism, has agreed to a settlement in the case brought against it, marking perhaps the first time federal and state civil rights statutes have been successfully invoked by nonbelievers in a public accommodations lawsuit.

In April of last year, the Center for Inquiry, an organization advocating for science, reason, and secular values, brought suit against the Wyndgate Country Club of Rochester Hills, Michigan for violation of both the federal and state civil rights laws, as well as breach of contract, after it cancelled an October, 2011 CFI-Michigan event featuring famous atheist Richard Dawkins. The club tried to justify breaking its contract by stating that “the owner does not wish to associate with certain individuals and philosophies.” The club’s representative specifically cited a concern over Dawkins’ appearance on The O’Reilly Factor a few days before, in which Dawkins’ atheism was the chief topic.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome of this case, which we regard as an unqualified vindication of the rights of nonbelievers,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “We are confident it will send a strong message that as much as this country now rejects discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, and religion, so must we reject just as strongly discrimination against those with no religion.”

The details of the settlement agreement are confidential, as is common in such circumstances. And while I would much rather have had a court ruling that declared that the anti-discrimination laws applied to discrimination against atheists, refusing the settlement and going forward with the case did carry the opposite risk of getting a ruling that went the other way. At the very least, this allows us to point to this as a precedent where someone who discriminated against atheists had to pay a financial price for doing so. And that’s a good thing.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    raven

    I looked up the guy who owns Wyndgate. He has a rather disreputable history.

    1. He is very rich. He got that way by extracting wealth from his companies which eventually went bankrupt.

    2. He gets involved in a lot of lawsuits.

  2. 2
    raven

    old post
    raven11 October 2011 at 4:01 pm (UTC -6)

    Apparently, Larry J. Winget siphoned money from his auto parts company to fund other companies it owned including the golf course. It then went bankrupt and he got sued. The legal complaint called it “fraudulent”.

    “The 91-page lawsuit, filed in a Detroit bankruptcy court by Venture and unsecured creditors, calls the transactions made between Venture and the separate affiliates “a concerted scheme by Winget” that was “fraudulent.””

    forbes. com edited for length:

    Detroit Stews As Venture Creditors Boil
    Nathan Vardi, 04.12.04, 10:15 AM ET

    NEW YORK – General Motors, Ford Motor and DaimlerChrysler have been getting nervous watching the carnage at Fraser, Mich., auto parts supplier Venture Holdings.

    Last week, Venture, together with its unsecured creditors, sued its owner, Larry J. Winget, to recover $315 million he allegedly siphoned from the parts supplier. Unsecured creditors like E.I. du Pont de Nemours (nyse: DD – news – people ), a subsidiary of American International Group (nyse: AIG – news – people ) and bond funds run by Merrill Lynch (nyse: MER – news – people ) and Eaton Vance (nyse: EV – news – people ) are trying to get back some of the $500 million or so Venture has owed them since it filed for court bankruptcy protection last year.

    The problem, as Forbes reported a year ago, was that Winget also owned affiliated companies that were held separately from Venture (see “Auto-Da-Fe”). These separate companies received tens of millions of dollars from Venture. The transactions between Venture and Winget’s separate affiliates were largely disclosed, but with so much money going out the door, Venture eventually had trouble paying its bills. Directors at Venture’s German unit put it in receivership in 2002, and Venture wound up in bankruptcy court last year. Winget resigned as chief executive, and five independent directors were appointed.

    The 91-page lawsuit, filed in a Detroit bankruptcy court by Venture and unsecured creditors, calls the transactions made between Venture and the separate affiliates “a concerted scheme by Winget” that was “fraudulent.” The suit says Venture funded a sports car maker owned 75% by Winget and a golf course he owned with $38 million. Venture also paid a 3% sales commission amounting to $52 million over six years to a marketing entity owned by Winget.

    While the situation at Venture deteriorates, the Big Three automakers might decide it’s safer to get plastic parts elsewhere in the future. But for now they have their current production schedules to worry about. That leaves Winget and Venture’s creditors little time to cut a deal.

    More From Forbes
    Auto-Da-Fe 04.14.03
    Larry Winget got rich off auto parts, but enraged German automakers and U.S. creditors

  3. 3
    raven

    raven 11 October 2011 at 4:14 pm (UTC -6)

    If you put Larry J. Winget into google all sorts of stuff comes up. He seems to spend a lot of time in court sueing and being sued.

    “made in numerous lawsuits currently pending against Winget raise concern as to”

    I didn’t read any of the .pdfs so it isn’t too clear what is going on. And I don’t care enough to bother wading through huge numbers of court documents. Some of it seems to involve taxes.

    My impression is that he siphoned large quantities of money out of his main company which then collapsed and he is trying to keep it or some such. He doesn’t sound like a nice guy at all.

    Search Results[PDF]
    STATE OF MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF LABOR & ECONOMIC …w ww.dleg.state.mi.us/ham/tax/pdf/decisions/income/319852.
    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – Quick View
    DEPARTMENT OF LABOR & ECONOMIC GROWTH. MICHIGAN TAX TRIBUNAL . Larry J. Winget & Alicia J. Winget,. Petitioners, v. MTT Docket No. 319852 …
    [PDF]
    STATE OF MICHIGANw ww.dleg.state.mi.us/ham/tax/pdf/decisions/income/319852oj.pdf

    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – Quick View
    MICHIGAN TAX TRIBUNAL. Larry J. Winget & Alicia J. Winget,. Petitioners, v …
    Show more results from dleg.state.mi.usNo. 07-1096. – JPMORGAN CHASE BANK v. WINGET – US 6th Circuitcaselaw.findlaw.com/us-6th-circuit/1390134.htmlCached – Similar

    Dec 14, 2007 – Larry J. WINGET and the Larry J. Winget Living Trust, ….. made in numerous lawsuits currently pending against Winget raise concern as to …
    No. 07-1657. – WINGET v. JP MORGAN CHASE BANK JP LLC LLC …caselaw.findlaw. com/us-6th-circuit/1226825.htmlCached

    Aug 11, 2008 – Larry J. WINGET and the Larry J. Winget Living Trust, …

  4. 4
    Childermass

    I don’t see how the case could have gone the other way assuming the court was not willing to outright play the atheists-are-evil card which would then lose on appeal. In addition to the the public accommodation issue, there is also a blatant breech of contract. Even where it is legal to discriminate, one can still be held to the contracts that one voluntarily signs.

    The bigots only real hope was to hope those they discriminated against are unable to afford the necessary legal costs and that no one would step up to provide it. That might have been the case in some cases, but not here. And now with a precedent, it will be slightly easier for those without deep pockets.

  5. 5
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    First, we don’t know the terms of the contract. “Morally reprehensible actions” and similar terms are used in some contracts to permit termination of the contract without liability.

    Second, the remedies for breach and the remedies for tort are very different. Contract grants certain remedies but precludes certain others. If the point is to establish that it is illegal to discriminate against the religious* belief that no gods have been proven to exist, establishing that the separate body of law that is about contracts applies regardless of religious belief is a major fail. You’re missing the type of precedent that a certain decision would set. And if a court found for CFI, but said there was no good law on the discrimination issue and the contract damages would be sufficient even if resolved under tort, would a court of appeal overrule that? Unlikely.

    * In the sense, “Of or pertaining to some aspect of religion”.

  6. 6
    d.c.wilson

    I don’t see how the case could have gone the other way assuming the court was not willing to outright play the atheists-are-evil card which would then lose on appeal.

    Unless, of course, you end up in front of a Roy Moore wannabe at the state supreme court level.

  7. 7
    whheydt

    While I’m glad you got a settlement you think is okay (I presume it includes agreement that the organization will NOT discriminate against atheists in the future), as a matter of principle I really think that all settlements should be a matter of public record, since the *case* is a matter of public record.

    I realize that would be a real problem in a lot of situations, but sealed agreements work against the public weal in a number of ways.

    In this specific instance, what happens if the venue does it again and no one knows their history and there is no public documentation that they’ve agreed not to do so any more?

  8. 8
    JD

    Ed said

    someone who discriminated against atheists had to pay a financial price for doing so

    If the settlement is confidential, how can you know/reveal they paid anything, much less a “financial price”?

  9. 9
    Childermass

    Crip Dyke @ 5: First, we don’t know the terms of the contract. “Morally reprehensible actions” and similar terms are used in some contracts to permit termination of the contract without liability.

    1) If they were so concerned about that, why did sign with Richard Dawkins? Did they as much as ask who he was or do as much as a Google search?

    2) Contracts are a matter of law. Assuming the contract did not define “morally reprehensible actions” then courts are required to consider the law. Under the law, a religious opinion is protected by public accommodation laws (the two aspects certainly re-enforce each other). Furthermore a court really can’t rule any religious stance morally wrong as they are bound by the First Amendment.

    d.c. wilson @ 6:

    I will concede that in the Deep South there is a danger the state court system ignoring the First Amendment. But even there, there are plenty of judges not nearly as radical as Moore. Most right wingers also put a lot of stock in being required to comply with contracts. This is not a hard case to explain to the voters. Most people do understand that if you take someone’s money you have an obligation that does not go away upon your next whim.

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