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Washington High Court Extends Law Against Discrimination to Employees of Exempt Small Employers

By Jamerson C. Allen and Barry Alan Johnsrud
  • June 1, 2000

A recent ruling from the Washington Supreme Court has given employees of small employers exempt from the state's Law Against Discrimination a right to sue for discrimination based on sex and other protected classifications. The ruling, which allows employees to bring claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, subjects every employer in Washington to the potential for personal injury liability under state common law. Roberts v. Dudley, 140 Wn.2d 58, 993 P.2d 901, 82 FEP Cases (BNA) 27 (February 17, 2000).

In the case, a small veterinary clinic with fewer than eight employees initially was successful in defeating a terminated employee's lawsuit claiming pregnancy discrimination. The employer also had argued that the small employer exemption meant he could not be liable for termination in violation of public policy.

The Washington Supreme Court found that the statement of public policy prohibiting sex and other forms of employment discrimination (race, national origin, disability, or age discrimination) in the Law Against Discrimination could support a claim for wrongful termination.. The court also found in its own decisions a "strong and clear" public policy against discrimination. Accordingly, the court recognized a new "tort" for wrongful discharge based on these statements of public policy against discrimination.

The traditional common law remedies of compensatory and other damages would be available in such cases. However, the recovery of attorney's fees remains an open question. Attorneys in the Jackson Lewis Seattle office are available to assist employers with labor and employment law concerns in Washington State.

©2000 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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