Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel wants a circuit court to dismiss a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations in the state’s efforts to protect transgender residents.

Studio 8 Hair Lab in Traverse City faces fines and suspension of its business license after the Michigan Department of Civil Rights in November charged owner Christine Geiger with violations of the Elliot-Larson Civil Rights Act over a Facebook post this summer.

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“If a human identifies as anything other than a man/woman please seek services at a local pet groomer,” the July post to the salon’s Facebook page read. “You are not welcome at this salon. Period. Should you request to have a particular pronoun used please note we may simply refer to you as ‘hey you.’”

Geiger sued Traverse City and three people who filed certified complaints in October, and added the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to the case in December. The Elliot Larson Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, and the state contends a business does not have to physically deny services to violate the law.

Gieger argues the act violates her constitutional rights of free speech and religious freedom, and is asking the Grand Traverse Circuit Court to weigh in. Nessel’s motion to dismiss filed Tuesday asserts the case should be in the Michigan Court of Claims, rather than Circuit Court. Nessel argues that’s the only venue for cases against the state or its departments.

“Under Michigan law, religious freedoms are taken into consideration under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act when assessing discrimination claims. Our state’s residents can rest assured that Michigan’s recently enacted protections for the LGBTQ+ community will be enforced to the fullest extent as the constitution permits,” Nessel said in a statement. “The Circuit Court has no discretion but to dismiss Studio 8’s claims against the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.”

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John Johnson, the department’s executive director, alleges Geiger is leveraging the case to derail the administrative proceedings against her.

“Studio 8’s owner has shown she has little regard for the civil rights protections enshrined in the Elliott-Larson Civil Rights Act,” he said in a statement. “While the First Amendment and the ELCRA incorporate religious freedoms, the posts made by Studio 8 fall outside these protections. Her blatant violation of the law cannot be allowed to continue without consequence.”

Geiger shared a different interpretation of the law with the Metro Times.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has said that courts decide first before agencies,” she said.

Gaylord attorney David Delaney, who is representing Geiger, told the Detroit Free Press in November the case centers on free speech, as it involves a social media post and not an actual denial of services.

While the Michigan Department of Civil Rights has interpreted the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity, an interpretation upheld by the state Supreme Court in July 2022, the law did not explicitly include LGBTQ+ rights.

That changed when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an expansion of the law in March that went into effect last week. Geiger contends the expanded protections are unconstitutional.

The Grand Traverse Circuit Court is expected to hear Nessel’s motion to dismiss in the coming weeks.