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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Washington Law Against Discrimination Is Potent

by Gregory Williams, Esq. | The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) is a potent statute that places plaintiffs in the role of a private attorney general. How potent is the statute? Here’s my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).

THE PURPOSE OF WLAD

The Washington State Supreme Court has held that the purpose of the WLAD is to deter and eradicate discrimination in Washington. Fraternal Order of Eagles, Tenino Aerie No. 564 v. Grand Aerie of Fraternal Order of Eagles, 148 Wn.2d 224, 246, 59 P.3d 655, (Wash. 2002). This is a policy of the “highest order.” Id. Accordingly, WLAD requires a liberal construction in order to accomplish the purposes of the law and states that nothing contained in the law shall “be construed to deny the right to any person to institute any action or pursue any civil or criminal remedy based upon an alleged violation of his or her civil rights.” Marquis v. City of Spokane, 130 Wn.2d 97, 108, 922 P.2d 43, (Wash. 1996). The legislative purpose of the WLAD is codified in RCW 49.60.010 which provides:
This chapter shall be known as the “law against discrimination.” It is an exercise of the police power of the state for the protection of the public welfare, health, and peace of the people of this state, and in fulfillment of the provisions of the Constitution of this state concerning civil rights. The legislature hereby finds and declares that practices of discrimination against any of its inhabitants 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 are a matter of state concern, that such discrimination threatens not only the rights and proper privileges of its inhabitants but menaces the institutions and foundation of a free democratic state. A state agency is herein created with powers 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; and the commission established hereunder is hereby given general jurisdiction and power for such purposes.
Id. (emphasis added) (NOTE: the last sentence refers to the Washington State Human Rights Commission). Further, RCW 49.60.020 mandates a liberal construction of WLAD as follows:
The provisions of this chapter shall be construed liberally for the accomplishment of the purposes thereof. Nothing contained in this chapter shall be deemed to repeal any of the provisions of any other law of this state relating to discrimination because of race, color, creed, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, age, honorably discharged veteran or military status, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, other than a law which purports to require or permit doing any act which is an unfair practice under this chapter. Nor shall anything herein contained be construed to deny the right to any person to institute any action or pursue any civil or criminal remedy based upon an alleged violation of his or her civil rights. This chapter shall not be construed to endorse any specific belief, practice, behavior, or orientation. Inclusion of sexual orientation in this chapter shall not be construed to modify or supersede state law relating to marriage.
Id. (emphasis added).

A DECLARATION OF POLICY

Moreover, Washington courts have held that a declaration of policy in a legislative act serves as an important guide in determining the intended effect of the operative sections. See Kilian v. Atkinson, 147 Wn.2d 16, 23, 50 P.3d 638, (Wash. 2002) (internal citation omitted).  Thus, it is no surprise that the Washington State Supreme Court has held that a statutory mandate of liberal construction requires that “we view with caution any construction that would narrow the coverage of the law.” See Marquis v. City of Spokane, 130 Wn.2d 97, 108, 922 P.2d 43, (Wash. 1996) (citing Shoreline Community College Dist. No. 7 v. Employment Sec. Dep’t, 120 Wash.2d 394, 406, 842 P.2d 938 (1992)) (quotations omitted).

PRIVATE ATTORNEY GENERAL

Ultimately, a plaintiff bringing a discrimination case in Washington assumes the role of a private attorney general, vindicating a policy of the highest priority. See Marquis v. City of Spokane, 130 Wn.2d 97, 109, 922 P.2d 43, (Wash. 1996).

LEARN MORE

If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced Washington State Employment Discrimination Attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Please note: the information contained in this article is not offered as legal advice and will not form an attorney-client relationship with either this author or Williams Law Group, PS; please see our DISCLAIMER.

–gw

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