Washington Law Against Discrimination

By Gregory Williams, Esq. | What is the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD)? Here’s my point of view (please review our Disclaimer, Terms of Use & Privacy Notice before proceeding).

The WLAD, RCW 49.60, is a powerful state law that prohibits discriminatory practices in the areas of employment, places of public resort, accommodation, or amusement, in real estate transactions, and credit and insurance transactions based on protected classes. This article will address solely the area of employment.

DECLARATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS

In the state of Washington, the right to be free from discrimination because of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability is recognized as and declared to be a civil right. RCW 49.60.030(1). This right includes, but is not be limited to the right to obtain and hold employment without discrimination. RCW 49.60.030(1)(a).

PROTECTED CLASSES

The essence of unlawful employment discrimination is the application of unreasonable generalizations about people to the hiring, promotion and discharge of workers; to be unlawful, these generalizations must be based on protected classes under the Washington Law Against Discrimination. See Barnes v. Washington Natural Gas Co., 22 Wn.App. 576, 582, 591 P.2d 461 (Div. 1 1979).

Protected classes under WLAD include age; color and race; creed; families with children; honorably discharged veteran or military status; national origin; marital status; sex; sexual orientation and gender identity; the presence of any sensory mental, or physical disability; the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability; and whistleblower.

SCOPE OF THE LAW

The Washington Law Against Discrimination is a broad and powerful remedial statue that was originally enacted in 1949 as an employment discrimination law. See Fraternal Order of Eagles v. Grand Aerie of Fraternal Order, 148 Wn.2d 224, 237, 59 P.3d 655 (Wash. 2002) (internal citations omitted); Laws of 1949, ch. 183. Remarkably, Washington State enacted WLAD 15 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And WLAD is potent. It contains a sweeping policy statement both denouncing discrimination in a variety of forms and mandating that the law be liberally construed for the accomplishment of the purposes thereof. Allison v. Housing Authority of City of Seattle, 118 Wn.2d 79, 85-86, 821 P.2d 34 (1991); RCW 49.60.020.

Enforcement of WLAD is substantially dependent on employees‘ willingness to fight for their rights and either file charges or testify in discrimination cases. See id. at 86. Thus, Plaintiffs that litigate discrimination claims take on the “role of a private attorney general vindicating a policy of the highest priority.” Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

UNFAIR PRACTICES OF EMPLOYERS

Washington Law Against Discrimination makes it unlawful for employers to engage in certain practices. The following are declared to be unfair practices by employers:

(1) To refuse to hire any person because of membership in a protected class, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification: PROVIDED, That the prohibition against discrimination because of such disability shall not apply if the particular disability prevents the proper performance of the particular worker involved: PROVIDED, That this section shall not be construed to require an employer to establish employment goals or quotas based on sexual orientation.

(2) To discharge or bar any person from employment because membership in a protected class.

(3) To discriminate against any person in compensation or in other terms or conditions of employment because of membership in a protected class: PROVIDED, That it shall not be an unfair practice for an employer to segregate washrooms or locker facilities on the basis of sex, or to base other terms and conditions of employment on the sex of employees where the commission by regulation or ruling in a particular instance has found the employment practice to be appropriate for the practical realization of equality of opportunity between the sexes.

(4) To print, or circulate, or cause to be printed or circulated any statement, advertisement, or publication, or to use any form of application for employment, or to make any inquiry in connection with prospective employment, which expresses any limitation, specification, or discrimination as to membership in a protected class, or any intent to make any such limitation, specification, or discrimination, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification: PROVIDED, Nothing contained herein shall prohibit advertising in a foreign language.

See RCW 49.60.180.

RETALIATION

Washington Law Against Discrimination also protects individuals against employer retaliation for engaging in protected activity under certain circumstances. The relevant law is RCW 49.60.210 and it states as follows:

(1) It is an unfair practice for any employer, employment agency, labor union, or other person to discharge, expel, or otherwise discriminate against any person because he or she has opposed any practices forbidden by … [the Washington Law Against Discrimination], or because he or she has filed a charge, testified, or assisted in any proceeding under this chapter.

(2) It is an unfair practice for a government agency or government manager or supervisor to retaliate against a whistleblower as defined in chapter 42.40 RCW.

(3) It is an unfair practice for any employer, employment agency, labor union, government agency, government manager, or government supervisor to discharge, expel, discriminate, or otherwise retaliate against an individual assisting with an office of fraud and accountability investigation under RCW 74.04.012, unless the individual has willfully disregarded the truth in providing information to the office.

RCW 49.60.210.

THE WA STATE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

Washington Law Against Discrimination “created a state agency, later designated in 1971 as the Washington State Human Rights Commission, and granted it jurisdiction and powers to carry out the provision of WLAD and the policies and practices of the commission connected therewith.” Fraternal Order of Eagles, Tenino Aerie No. 564 v. Grand Aerie of Fraternal Order of Eagles, 148 Wn.2d 224, 237, 59 P.3d 655 (2002) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added). The Commission is authorized to receive, impartially investigate, and pass upon complaints alleging unfair practices defined by WLAD. Id.

Essentially, the Commission has power with respect to elimination and prevention of discrimination in employment, in credit and insurance transactions, in places of public resort, accommodation, or amusement, and in real property transactions because of race, creed, color, national origin, families with children, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, age, honorably discharged veteran or military status, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability.

CIVIL LAWSUITS

However, notwithstanding the existence of the Washington State Human Rights Commission, employees and former employees are not required to exhaust administrative remedies through the Commission before pursuing civil remedies through the court system based on violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination. However, this does not hold true for certain federal antidiscrimination laws subject to jurisdiction of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. See EEOC website. This article addresses solely Washington State law (WLAD) and does not discuss federal discrimination law.

If the employee (or former employee) wants to bypass the Washington State Human Rights Commission, or the Commission dismisses the charge of discrimination, or the Commission elects not to file the charge, then the employee might be able to file a civil lawsuit based on violations of WLAD in a court of competent jurisdiction.

REMEDIES

Remedies for violations of the Washington Law Against Discrimination are broad. Any person deeming himself or herself injured by any act in violation of WLAD can bring a civil action in a court of competent jurisdiction to enjoin further violations, or to recover the actual damages sustained by the person, or both, together with the cost of suit including reasonable attorneys’ fees or any other appropriate remedy authorized by WLAD or the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, or the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 3601 et seq.). See RCW 49.60.030(2).

LEARN MORE

If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced employment discrimination attorney to discuss your case as soon as possible. This article is not offered as legal advice and will not establish an attorney-client relationship with Williams Law Group, Law Office of Gregory A. Williams, P.S., Inc., or the author of this article. Please read our Disclaimer, Terms of Use & Privacy notice.