Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court. The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) generally prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because the employee has a disability. The question posed centered on whether obesity qualified as an "impairment" under the WLAD. In 2007, Casey Taylor received a conditional offer of employment as an electronic technician for BNSF Railway Company, contingent on a physical exam and medical history questionnaire. The medical exam found Taylor met the minimum physical demands of the essential functions of his would-be job. Taylor self-reported his height and weight as 5'7" and 250 pounds, making his BMI 39.2. The medical exam revealed he was 5'6" and 256 pounds, with the resulting BMI of 41.3. BNSF treated a BMI over 40 as a "trigger" for further screening in its employment process. Because Taylor's BMI was over 40, the results were reviewed by BNSF's chief medical officer. Ultimately, BNSF told Taylor it was unable to determine whether he was medically qualified for the job "due to significant health and safety risks associated with extreme obesity, and uncertain status of knees and back." BNSF offered to reconsider Taylor's employment offer if he paid for additional medical testing, including a sleep study, blood work, and an exercise tolerance test. In short, BNSF told Taylor it was company policy not to hire anyone who had a BMI of over 35, and if he could not afford testing, his option was to lose 10 percent of his weight and keep it off for six months. Thereafter, Taylor sued. The Washington Supreme Court responded to the certified question that obesity "always qualifies as an impairment under the plain language of RCW 49.60.040(7)(c)(i) because it is recognized by the medical community as a 'physiological disorder, or condition' ... therefore, if an employer refuses to hire someone because the employer perceives the applicant to have obesity, and the applicant is able to properly perform the job in question, the employer violates this section of the WLAD." View "Taylor v. Burlington N. R.R. Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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Cesar Beltran-Serrano, mentally ill and homeless, was shot multiple times by a Tacoma, Washington Police Officer, Michel Volk. Beltran-Serrano survived the shooting, and through a guardian ad liter, filed suit for negligence and assault and battery against the City of Tacoma. The superior court dismissed the negligence claims on summary judgment, agreeing with the City that Beltran-Serrano’s legal redress would have been as an intentional tort claim for assault and battery. The Washington Supreme Court reversed: “the fact that Officer Volk’s conduct may constitute assault and battery does not preclude a negligence claim premised on her alleged failure to use ordinary care to avoid unreasonably escalating the encounter to the use of deadly force.” The Court concluded Beltran-Serrano presented evidence to allow a jury to find that the City failed to follow accepted practices in Officer Volk’s interactions with him leading up to the shooting, and that his negligence resulted in his injuries. View "Beltran-Serrano v. City of Tacoma" on Justia Law

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The federal Supreme Court remanded a case involving Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. The underlying matter involved Washington’s anti-discrimination law, RCW 49.60.215(1), banning discrimination in “public accommodations” on the basis of sexual orientation. Barronelle Stutzman owned and operated Arlene’s Flowers, Inc., considered a place of public accommodation. Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts refused to sell wedding flowers to a same-sex couple. The federal Supreme Court remanded this case back to the State Court to determine whether the Washington law violated the federal Constitution’s guaranty of religious neutrality. After fully reviewing the record with this issue in mind, and substantial new briefing on the matter, the Washington Court held the answered the federal Supreme Court with a “no:” the adjudicators that considered this case did not act with religious animus when they ruled the florist and her corporation violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination. And, the Court determined, they did not act with religious animus when they ruled that such discrimination was not privileged or excused by the federal or state constitutions. View "Washington v. Arlene's Flowers, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the Snohomish County, Washington sheriff was required to issue a concealed pistol license (CPL) to an individual whose juvenile record included adjudications for class A felonies. The Washington Supreme Court concluded: no, the sheriff was not required to issue a CPL to a person prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law. The Court of Appeals was reversed and Barr was denied a writ of mandamus to require the Sheriff issue him a CPL. View "Barr v. Snohomish County Sheriff" on Justia Law

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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