Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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Christopher Floeting alleged a Group Health Cooperative employee repeatedly sexually harassed him while he was seeking medical treatment. He sued Group Health for the unwelcome and offensive sexual conduct under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, which made it unlawful for any person or the person's agency or employee to commit an act of discrimination in any place of public accommodation. The trial court dismissed on summary judgment, pursuant to Group Health's argument the employment discrimination standard applied. The Court of Appeals reversed. Group Health argued the Washington Supreme Court should import workplace sexual harassment doctrines into the public accommodations context, thereby limiting its employer liability. Declining to do so, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court. View "Floeting v. Grp. Health Coop." on Justia Law

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A question of Washington law was certified to the Washington Supreme Court on whether prospective employers are free to engage in retaliatory discrimination in the hiring process. Waterville School District No. 209 hired Jin Zhu as a math teacher in 2006. In 2010, Waterville issued a notice of probable cause for Zhu's discharge, which he appealed. The hearing officer determined that there was not probable cause for discharge and restored Zhu to his position. Zhu then sued Waterville in federal district court, alleging that Waterville had subjected him to racially motivated disparate treatment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. sections 1983, 2000e-2, and 2000e-3. His complaint alleged that he filed multiple grievances with Waterville regarding hostile and abusive actions by his students; instead of attempting to remedy the situation, Zhu alleged Waterville took retaliatory actions against him for filing the grievances, including attempting to discharge him without probable cause. After the district court denied Waterville's motion for summary judgment dismissal, the parties settled and Zhu resigned from Waterville in March 2012. Three months after resigning from Waterville, Zhu applied for a position as a "Math-Science Specialist" with ESD 171. Zhu was one of three candidates interviewed, but ESD 171 ultimately hired a different candidate, whom Zhu claims was far less qualified for the position. Zhu sued ESD 171 in federal district court, alleging that it refused to hire him in retaliation for his prior lawsuit against Waterville, thereby violating WLAD's antiretaliation statute, RCW 49.60.210(1), as well as other state and federal laws. The Washington Supreme Court held that in accordance with the plain language of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), chapter 49.60 RCW, retaliatory discrimination against job applicants by prospective employers was prohibited. Therefore, plaintiff Jin Zhu's claim that defendant North Central Educational Service District - ESD 171 (ESD 171) refused to hire him because of his opposition to his former employer's racial discrimination stated a valid cause of action. View "Zhu v. N. Cent. Educ. Serv. District" on Justia Law

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Rachelle and Charles Black were married for nearly 20 years and had three sons. They raised their children in a conservative Christian church and sent them to private, Christian schools. In 2011, Rachelle told Charles that she was lesbian, and the parties divorces shortly thereafter. In the order of dissolution, the trial court designated Charles as the primary residential parent. The final parenting plan also awarded Charles sole decision-making authority regarding the children's education and religious upbringing. The record showed that the trial court considered Rachelle's sexual orientation as a factor when it fashioned the final parenting plan. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found improper bias influenced the proceedings. “This bias casts doubt on the trial court's entire ruling, and we are not confident the trial court ensured a fair proceeding by maintaining a neutral attitude regarding Rachelle's sexual orientation. Accordingly, we reverse.” View "In re Marriage of Black" on Justia Law

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In 2004, respondents Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed began a committed, romantic relationship. In 2012, the Washington legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239, which recognized equal civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. Respondents intended to marry in September 2013. By the time he and Freed became engaged, Ingersoll had been a customer at Arlene's Flowers for at least nine years, purchasing numerous floral arrangements from Stutzman and spending an estimated several thousand dollars at her shop. Baroronelle Stutzman owned and was the president of Arlene's Flowers. Stutzman knew that Ingersoll is gay and that he had been in a relationship with Freed for several years. The two men considered Arlene's Flowers to be "[their] florist." Stutzman’s sincerely held religious beliefs included a belief that marriage can exist only between one man and one woman. Ingersoll approached Arlene's Flowers about purchasing flowers for his upcoming wedding. Stutzman told Ingersoll that she would be unable to do the flowers for his wedding because of her religious beliefs. Ingersoll did not have a chance to specify what kind of flowers or floral arrangements he was seeking before Stutzman told him that she would not serve him. They also did not discuss whether Stutzman would be asked to bring the arrangements to the wedding location or whether the flowers would be picked up from her shop. Stutzman asserts that she gave Ingersoll the name of other florists who might be willing to serve him, and that the two hugged before Ingersoll left her store. Ingersoll maintains that he walked away from that conversation "feeling very hurt and upset emotionally." The State and the couple sued, each alleging violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). Stutzman defended on the grounds that the WLAD and CPA did not apply to her conduct and that, if they did, those statutes violated her state and federal constitutional rights to free speech, free exercise, and free association. The Superior Court granted summary judgment to the State and the couple, rejecting all of Stutzman's claims. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Washington v. Arlene's Flowers, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Benton County District Court ordered petitioner Briana Wakefield to pay $15 each month toward her outstanding legal financial obligations (LFOs). Wakefield was homeless, disabled, and indigent. Her only income was $710 in social security disability payments each month, and as a result, she struggled to meet her own basic needs. Wakefield and amici asked the Washington Supreme Court to reverse the district court's order and hold that the practice of strict LFO enforcement against homeless, disabled, and indigent people in Benton County violated state and federal statutes. Because the district court's order was contrary to both the law and the evidence in the record, the Supreme Court reversed: "Under state law, LFOs should be imposed only if an individual has a present or future ability to pay, and LFOs may be remitted when paying them would impose a manifest hardship on the person. . . . we order that her LFOs be remitted." View "City of Richland v. Wakefield" on Justia Law

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Nine employees of Western State Hospital (WSH) claimed that the hospital illegally took race into account when making staffing decisions in response to patients' race-based threats or demands. After a six-day bench trial, the trial court found that WSH managers issued a staffing directive that prevented African-American staff from working with a violent patient making threats over the course of one weekend in 2011. Despite this race-based staffing directive, the trial court entered a verdict for the State and dismissed Employees' employment discrimination claims. After review, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the State's racially discriminatory staffing directive violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). View "Blackburn v. Washington" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether RCW 4.24.550, a community notification statute relating to registered sex offenders, constituted an "other statute" under the Public Records Act (PRA), that would exempt the blanket release of level I sex offender registration information from a PRA request. Appellant Donna Zink made several public records requests with the Washington State Patrol (WSP) and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) for documents pertaining to level I registered sex offenders. Both the WSP and WASPC intended to grant her request, but the WASPC notified several of the John Does that their records had been requested. The John Does in turn filed suit to enjoin production of the records. The trial court granted the injunction. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court, holding that RCW 4.24.550, and specifically RCW 4.24.550(3)(a), was not an "other statute" exemption under RCW 42.56.070(1) of the PRA. View "John Doe A v. Wash. State Patrol" on Justia Law

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Brian Long sued his former employer, Bo Brusco and Brusco Tug & Barge Inc. (Brusco), alleging wrongful termination in retaliation for opposing Brusco's discriminatory conduct against another employee. The underlying facts were disputed, and centered on Brusco's response to Long's having hired as a deckhand Anthony Morgan, an individual who had a prosthetic leg. Long appealed the denial of his motion for a new trial based on a claim of juror misconduct. As the trial court explained in its order denying Long's motion for a new trial, "it was repeatedly conveyed to the jury that whether or not, in hindsight, Mr. Morgan was discriminated against was not their concern; rather, their focus should begin with the question of whether or not Mr. Long, at that time, had a reasonable belief that Mr. Morgan was being discriminated against." The question before the Washington Supreme Court was whether the juror declarations Long submitted in support of his motion describe actual misconduct by jurors or instead reveal matters that inhere in the verdict. The Court concluded the declarations expose the jury's deliberative process behind closed doors and cannot be considered to impeach the verdict. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court and the Court of Appeals' conclusion that Long was not entitled to a new trial. View "Long v. Brusco Tug & Barge, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioner David Brown appealed a Court of Appeals holding that venue for this sexual harassment suit was proper in Clark County. Respondents Robin Eubanks and Erin Gray alleged Brown engaged in sexual harassment against then from September 2007 to July 2010 while Brown was a deputy prosecuting attorney in the Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. Eubanks mistakenly believed that RCW 36.01.050 allowed for venue in any neighboring county, rather than the two nearest judicial districts. Upon realizing it was only the two nearest judicial districts, Eubanks moved to transfer venue to an appropriate county, Clark County Superior Court. Brown responded, claiming that under RCW 4.12.020(2), only Klickitat County Superior Court was an appropriate venue for the claims. However, his response did not request a change of venue to Klickitat County Superior Court or ask the Benton County Superior Court to deny the transfer of venue to Clark County Superior Court. Benton County Superior Court granted the motion to transfer venue to Clark County Superior Court. After the change of venue to Clark County Superior Court, Brown moved for a dismissal or a change of venue to Klickitat County Superior Court based on RCW 4.12.025(1) and RCW 4.12.020(2). He argued that venue was proper in Klickitat County Superior Court because he resided there and, alternatively, because the alleged tortious acts occurred in virtue of his public office and took place there. Clark County Superior Court denied Brown's motion to dismiss or motion to change venue on both grounds. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Brown argued on appeal to the Supreme Court that RCW 4.12.020(2) required that suits against public officers for acts done "in virtue of his or her office" proceed in the county where the acts occurred. The Supreme Court affirmed venue was proper in Clark County because the Court held that the acts alleged in this complaint were not "in virtue of" Brown's public office under RCW 4.14.020(2). View "Eubanks v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Appellants James Kumar, Ranveer Singh, Asegedew Gefe, and Abbas Kosymov brought a class action lawsuit against their employer, Gate Gourmet Inc., alleging two common law torts and two violations of Washington's Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). The lawsuit stemmed from Gate Gourmet's employee meal policy, which barred employees from bringing in their own food for lunch (for security reasons), leaving only employer-provided food for the employees to eat. According to plaintiffs, the policy forced them to work without food or eat food that violated their religious beliefs. The meals ostensibly consist of one vegetarian and one meat-based main dish. The employees alleged that Gate Gourmet used animal by-products in the "vegetarian" option, and despite switching to turkey for a meat-based option, the company reverted to using a beef/pork mixture in violation of others' religious dietary restrictions. The complaint, therefore, alleged that Gate Gourmet deceived "putative class members [to] unknowingly eat[ing] food forbidden by their beliefs," and that class members "have faced the choice of eating food forbidden by their sincerely held beliefs or not eating. Those that did consume meals, they argued, suffered offensive touching due to their contact with food prohibited by their beliefs, and suffered distress as a result." The trial court granted in full Gate Gourmet's CR 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, finding that the WLAD contained no requirement that employers make reasonable accommodations for their employees' religious practices. The Washington Supreme Court granted direct review and reversed. The Court held that the WLAD created a cause of action for failure to reasonably accommodate an employee's religious practices. With regard to plaintiffs' tort claims, the Court found the trial court dismissed them at the pleading stage, and the tort claims went without analysis. "In light of this fact and in light of Washington's relatively liberal standard for stating a cognizable claim," the Court remanded the case back to the superior court for further proceedings. View "Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc." on Justia Law