Search form

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.

Reproduction of this material in whole or in part is prohibited without the express prior written consent of Jackson Lewis P.C., a law firm that built its reputation on providing workplace law representation to management. Founded in 1958, the firm has grown to more than 900 attorneys in major cities nationwide serving clients across a wide range of practices and industries including government relations, healthcare and sports law. More information about Jackson Lewis can be found at

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

November 13, 2019

Healthcare Employers’ Title VII Obligations in Harassment, Discrimination of Employees by Patients

November 13, 2019

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires healthcare employers to protect their medical staff and employees from harassment and discrimination and respond to any such behaviors swiftly and effectively, even if the actor is a patient, rather than a coworker or supervisor. A decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit... Read More

October 18, 2019

Pay the Piper – California Employers Pressed to Pay Arbitration Fees or Risk Harsh Consequences

October 18, 2019

California employers may face harsh consequences for failing to pay arbitration fees on time under a bill (Senate Bill 707) signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 13, 2019. The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2020. Under the new law, if an employer fails to pay fees required for the commencement or continuation of an... Read More

October 15, 2019

New California Law Attacks Mandatory Arbitration Again … But Is It More Bark Than Bite?

October 15, 2019

California has joined a number of states in passing legislation purporting to prohibit mandatory arbitration agreements for sexual harassment and other claims. Such laws have gained popularity in the wake of the #MeToo movement, but are subject to challenge under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preemption principles. (See our articles... Read More

Related Practices