Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Tradesmen International and Laborworks Industrial Staffing Specialists were staffing agencies that placed temporary workers with host employers. Tradesmen staffed a worker at a Dochnahl Construction site. Laborworks staffed workers at a Strategic Materials recycling facility. The Department of Labor and Industries (Department) cited the staffing agencies for Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) violations arising from the staffing operations. In both cases, the citations were vacated by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (Board), finding that the staffing agencies were not liable employers under WISHA. The Department appealed the decisions to the superior court. As to Laborworks, the superior court reinstated the citations, and as to Tradesmen, the superior court affirmed the Board and vacated the citations. In both cases, the Court of Appeals determined that the staffing agencies were not liable employers under WISHA and vacated the citations. After its review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals as to Tradesmen and reversed as to Laborworks. View "Dep't of Labor & Indus. v. Tradesmen Int'l, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case involved a challenge to former RCW 43.43.120(23)(a) (2001), which excluded certain overtime from the calculation of the monthly pension benefit granted under the Washington State Patrol Retirement System (WSPRS). Four Washington State troopers (Troopers) hired before the statute became effective claimed this exclusion of voluntary overtime from the calculation of their monthly pensions was an unconstitutional impairment of their contract with the State in violation of article I, section 10 of the United States Constitution and article I, section 23 of the Washington State Constitution. On cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court ruled: (1) the statute of limitations was three years and accrued at retirement; (2) there remained issues of material fact regarding whether the change was offset by comparable benefits; and (3) the change was reasonable and necessary to serve a legitimate public purpose. After review of that ruling, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s rulings on the statute of limitations and on comparable benefits. However, the Court vacated its legitimate public purpose ruling as premature given that the issue of comparable benefits remained for trial. The matter was remanded for additional proceedings. View "Hester v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was whether the Washington legislature extended a privilege or immunity to religious and other nonprofit, secular employers and whether, in providing the privilege or immunity, the legislature affected a fundamental right without a reasonable basis for doing so. Lawmakers enacted Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) to protect citizens from discrimination in employment, and exempted religious nonprofits from the definition of “employer.” In enacting WLAD, the legislature created a statutory right for employees to be free from discrimination in the workplace while allowing employers to retain their constitutional right, as constrained by state and federal case law, to choose workers who reflect the employers’ beliefs when hiring ministers. Matthew Woods brought an employment discrimination action against Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission (SUGM). At trial, SUGM successfully moved for summary judgment pursuant to RCW 49.60.040(11)’s religious employer exemption. Woods appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, contesting the constitutionality of the statute. SUGM argued RCW 49.60.040(11)’s exemption applied to its hiring decisions because its employees were expected to minister to their clients. Under Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, 140 S. Ct. 2049 (2020), plaintiff’s employment discrimination claim must yield in a few limited circumstances, including where the employee in question was a minister. Whether ministerial responsibilities and functions discussed in Our Lady of Guadalupe were present in Woods’ case was not decided below. The Supreme Court determined RCW 49.60.040(11) was constitutional but could be constitutionally invalid as applied to Woods. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court to determine whether SUGM met the ministerial exception. View "Woods v. Seattle's Union Gospel Mission" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the general-specific rule applied to a second degree manslaughter charge stemming from a workplace death. The State initially charged Phillip Numrich under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act of 1973 (WISHA), RCW 49.17.190(3), the specific statute that punished employer conduct resulting in employee death. The State also charged the employer with second degree manslaughter. The trial court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the manslaughter charge based on the general-specific rule, and the employer sought and was granted direct review. Specifically, the issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether the trial court properly denied Numrich’s motion to dismiss a second degree manslaughter charge when one of his employees was killed at the construction site. While consideration of the employer’s motion for direct discretionary review was pending, the State moved to amend the information to add an alternative charge of first degree manslaughter. The trial court granted the motion to amend but sua sponte imposed sanctions against the State based on the timing of the amendment. The employer sought review of the order granting the amendment and the State sought review of the order imposing sanctions. The Washington Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in denying the employer’s motion to dismiss the manslaughter charge under the general–specific rule. Furthermore, the Court held the trial court did not err in granting the State’s motion to amend the information to add an alternative first degree manslaughter charge. Finally, the Court held the trial court did not err in imposing sanctions on the State under the circumstances of this case. View "Washington v. Numrich" on Justia Law

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Roger Leishman, an openly gay man, began employment with the Washington Attorney General’s office (AGO) as chief legal advisor to Western Washington University in 2015. Shortly after starting work, Leishman began exhibiting serious trichotillomania, anxiety, and other symptoms he disclosed to his employer. He would later be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, which was also disclosed to his employer. In January 2016, Leishman learned he did not receive a raise given to other assistant attorney generals, due to complaints his supervisor made about his conduct at work. Leishman contended his supervisor’s complaints were based on homophobic beliefs. Leishman made a formal request for reasonable accommodation of his disability, which the AGO denied. Leishman drafted a discrimination complaint. In response, the supervisor denied making the comments, accused Leishman of faking his disability, and refused to support his then-pending accommodation request. The AGO retained Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC (OMW) to conduct an independent investigation into Leishman’s discrimination complaint and his supervisor’s allegations. The OMW report concluded Leishman did not establish discrimination against him based on sexual orientation, and his conduct during a meeting with his supervisor violated expected standards of conduct for his position. The AGO thereafter terminated Leishman’s employment effective June, 2016. Leishman filed suit against the AGO. The parties reached a settlement agreement in which Leishman agreed to release his claims against the State and its officers. However, he also sued OMW, alleging the firm was not acting as the AGO’s agent, and his claims against the OMW were not barred by the settlement. The trial court granted OMW’s motion for judgment on the pleadings; the Court of Appeal reversed. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, and reinstated the trial court’s judgment. View "Leishman v. Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the constitutionality of RCW 49.46.130(2)(g), the provision exempting agricultural workers from the overtime pay requirement set out in the Washington Minimum Wage Act, ch. 49.46 RCW. Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar worked for DeRuyter Brothers Dairy as milkers. DeRuyter milkers used mechanized equipment to milk close to 3,000 cows per shift, 24 hours a day, three shifts a day, 7 days a week. In 2016, Martinez-Cuevas and Aguilar filed the present class action suit along with about 300 fellow DeRuyter dairy workers, claiming that DeRuyter failed to pay minimum wage to dairy workers, did not provide adequate rest and meal breaks, failed to compensate pre- and post-shift duties, and failed to pay overtime. The complaint also sought a judgment declaring RCW 49.46.130(2)(g) unconstitutional. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the class, finding the exemption violated article I, section 12 of the Washington Constitution and the equal protection clause. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concurred with the trial court and affirmed that judgment. View "Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Bros. Dairy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Evette Burgess and Lithia Motors, Inc. entered into arbitration to resolve an employment dispute. During arbitration proceedings, Burgess filed a motion with the court to terminate arbitration, alleging that Lithia and the arbitrator breached the arbitration agreement. The superior court denied Burgess’s motion, citing a lack of jurisdiction, and certified the matter for direct review, which the Washington Supreme Court granted. Under the FAA, the Supreme Court determined judicial review was limited to deciding gateway disputes, which concern enforceability of the arbitration clause, and addressing the award after arbitration. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "Burgess v. Lithia Motors, Inc." on Justia Law

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Pagliacci Pizza hired Steven Burnett as a delivery driver. Steven Burnett attended a mandatory new employee orientation at a local Pagliacci Pizza. During the orientation, Pagliacci gave Burnett multiple forms and told him to sign them so that he could start working. One of the forms that Burnett signed was a one-page “Employee Relationship Agreement” (ERA). The ERA mentioned nothing about arbitration of disputes. Pagliacci’s “Mandatory Arbitration Policy” (MAP) was printed in Pagliacci’s employee handbook, “Little Book of Answers,” a 23-page booklet in which Pagliacci’s MAP appeared on page 18. The MAP was not listed in the handbook’s table of contents, and page 18 fell within the “Mutual Fairness Benefits” section. Burnett was given a copy of Little Book of Answers during his orientation and told to read it at home. Consistent with that instruction, the ERA contained a section entitled “Rules and Policies.” Delivery drivers like Burnett filed a class action alleging wage and hour claims against Pagliacci Pizza. At issue on interlocutory review was whether the trial court sustainably denied the employer’s motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeals affirmed, determining that the mandatory arbitration policy contained in the employee handbook, which was provided to the named plaintiff after he signed the employment relationship agreement, was procedurally and substantively unconscionable and, thus, unenforceable. The Washington Supreme Court held that the MAP at issue in this case was indeed unenforceable because no arbitration agreement was formed when the employee signed the employment agreement when he had no notice of the arbitration provision contained in the employee handbook. The Court also held that in light of the noted circumstances, even if an arbitration contract existed, it was procedurally unconscionable and unenforceable. Furthermore, the Court held the same arbitration provision was substantively unconscionable because its one-sided terms and limitation provisions would bar any claim by the terminated employee here, an overly harsh result. Accordingly, the trial court’s order denying the employer’s motion to compel arbitration was affirmed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Burnett v. Pagliacci Pizza, Inc." on Justia Law

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Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) sought damages on behalf of its member nurses for unpaid working hours, overtime hours, and missed meal periods. The issue this appeal presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether an association had standing to bring a claim on behalf of its members when it must rely on representative testimony in order to establish the amount and extent of damages that its members suffered. Since these damages established through representative testimony were not certain, easily ascertainable, or within the knowledge of the defendant, the Supreme Court held that WSNA did not have standing to bring such a claim. View "Wash. State Nurses Ass'n v. Cmty. Health Sys., Inc." on Justia Law

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Jeoung Lee filed a putative class action lawsuit against her former employer, King County Public Hospital District No. 2 d/b/a Evergreen Hospital Medical Center1 (Evergreen). Lee alleged Evergreen failed to give rest and meal breaks in accordance with Washington law. After nine months of litigation and the addition of a second named plaintiff, Evergreen moved to compel arbitration, alleging that the claims were covered under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Evergreen and the Washington State Nurses Association (WSNA) that governs nurse employment. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals on the ground that Evergreen waived the right to compel arbitration, and remanded to the superior court for further proceedings. Because it affirmed on the ground of waiver, the Supreme Court declined to reach the issue of whether the claims were statutory or contractual under the CBA. View "Lee v. Evergreen Hosp. Med. Ctr." on Justia Law