Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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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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The jeopardy element of the tort for wrongful discharge against public policy and whether the administrative remedies available under the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 (STAA) were at issue in this case. This was one of three concomitant cases before the Washington Supreme Court concerning the "adequacy of alternative remedies" component of the jeopardy element that some of Washington cases seemingly embrace. The complaint here alleged that Anderson Hay & Grain Company terminated petitioner Charles Rose from his position as a semi-truck driver when he refused to falsify his drivetime records and drove in excess of the federally mandated drive-time limits. Rose had worked as a truck driver for over 30 years, the last 3 of which he worked as an employee for Anderson Hay. In March 2010, Rose sued under the STAA in federal court but his suit was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because he failed to first file with the secretary of labor. Rose then filed a complaint in Kittitas County Superior Court, seeking remedy under the common law tort for wrongful discharge against public policy. The trial court dismissed his claim on summary judgment, holding that the existence of the federal administrative remedy under the STAA prevented Rose from establishing the jeopardy element of the tort. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the appellate court for reconsideration in light of "Piel v. City of Federal Way," (306 P.3d 879 (2013)). Like the statute at issue in Piel, the STAA contained a nonpreemption clause. On remand, the Court of Appeals distinguished Rose's case from Piel, and again affirmed the trial court's decision. Upon review, the Supreme Court addressed the cases the Court of Appeals used as basis for its decision, and held that adequacy of alternative remedies component misapprehended the role of the common law and the purpose of this tort and had to be stricken from the jeopardy analysis. The Court "re-embraced" the formulation of the tort as initially articulated in those cases, and reversed the Court of Appeals. View "Rose v. Anderson Hay & Grain Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Erika Rickman brought this suit against her former employer, Premera Blue Cross, for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Rickman alleged she was terminated in retaliation for raising concerns about potential violations of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and its Washington counterpart, the Uniform Health Care Information Act (UHCIA). The trial court dismissed Rickman's suit on Premera's motion for summary judgment, concluding Rickman could not satisfy the jeopardy element of the tort because Premera's internal reporting system provided an adequate alternative means to promote the public policy. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court granted review of this case and two others in order to resolve confusion with respect to the jeopardy element of the tort of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Consistent with its decisions in the other two cases, the Court held that nothing in Premera' s internal reporting system, nor in HIPAA or UHCIA, precluded Rickman's claim of wrongful discharge. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals but remanded for that court to address Premera's alternate argument for upholding the trial court's order of dismissal. View "Rickman v. Premera Blue Cross" on Justia Law

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Respondent Gregg Becker began working for Rockwood Clinic PS, an acquired subsidiary of Community Health Systems (CHS) 1 as its chief financial officer (CFO) in February 2011. As a publicly traded company, CJ-IS is required to file reports with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). As Rockwood's CFO, Becker was required by state and federal law to ensure that Rockwood's reports did not mislead the public, which also required his personal verification that the reports did not contain any inaccurate material facts or material omissions. In October 2011, Becker submitted to CHS' financial department an "EBIDTA," calculation. Becker was not told that when CHS acquired Rockwood, it represented to creditors that the acquisition would incur a $4 million operating loss. To cover the discrepancy, CHS' financial supervisors allegedly directed Becker to correct his EBIDTA to reflect the targeted $4 million loss. CHS did not provide a basis for its low calculation. Becker refused, fearing that the projection would mislead creditors and investors in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The CEO made clear that Becker's refusal to do so put his position in jeopardy; Becker felt compelled to resign unless CHS responded to his concerns. CHS and Rockwood accepted Becker's resignation. CHS filed a CR 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss Becker's complaint for wrongful termination, contending that the jeopardy element of the tort had not been met because there were adequate alternative means to protect the public policy of honesty in corporate financial reporting. The Court of Appeals accepted review and determined that the jeopardy element had been satisfied because the alternative administrative enforcement mechanisms of SOX were inadequate and therefore did not foreclose common law tort remedies for employees. The Supreme Court's holding in "Rose v. Anderson Hay" instructed that alternative statutory remedies were to be analyzed for exclusivity, rather than adequacy. Under that formulation, neither SOX nor Dodd-Frank precluded Becker from recovery. The Court affirmed the trial court's denial of Community CHS' CR 12(b)(6) motion, and affirmed the Court of Appeals in upholding that decision upon certified interlocutory review. View "Becker v. Comm'y Health Sys., Inc.." on Justia Law