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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Res Judicata, Claim Splitting, and Independent Statutory Rights

by Gregory Williams, Esq. | Under Washington State law, does claim splitting apply to Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) claims and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) claims when they are pursued contemporaneously in separate causes of action? Here’s my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding). 


The theory of claim splitting is “variously referred to as res judicata or splitting causes of action.” Landry v. Luscher, 95 Wn.App. 779, 783, 976 P.2d 1274 (1999); Sound Build Homes, Inc. v. Windermere Real Estate/ South, Inc., 118 Wn.App. 617, 628, 72 P.3d 788 (Wash.App. Div. 2 2003); Schoeman v. New York Life Ins. Co., 106 Wn.2d 855, 859, 726 P.2d 1 (1986). The Washington State Supreme Court addressed the issue of res judicata and independent causes of action in Seattle-First Nat. Bank v. Kawachi when it held as follows:

[W]hile it is often said that a judgment is res judicata of every matter which could and should have been litigated in the action, this statement must not be understood to mean that a plaintiff must join every cause of action which is joinable when he brings a suit against a given defendant. CR 18(a) permits joinder of claims. It does not require such joinder.  And the rule is universal that a judgment upon one cause of action does not bar suit upon another cause which is independent of the cause which was adjudicated.

Seattle-First Nat. Bank v. Kawachi, 91 Wash. 2d 223, 588 P.2d 725 (1978) (citing 50 C.J.S. Judgments §668 (1947) (emphasis added); 46 Am.Jur.2d Judgments §404 (1969). Thus, it appears that if WLAD and Title VII claims are independent causes of action, then res judicata may be inapplicable when these claims are pursued contemporaneously in separate causes of action.


WLAD Claims are independent statutory rights. The Washington State Supreme Court has held that WLAD confers on individual employees an independent statutory right. See, Reese v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 107 Wn.2d 563, 577, 731 P.2d 497 (Wash. 1987) (holding that the comprehensive statutory scheme contained in RCW 49.60 evidences the Legislature’s intent to allow individual employees to pursue their statutory rights independently), overruled on other grounds by Phillips v. City of Seattle, 111 Wash.2d 903 766 P.2d 1099 (Wash. 1989)) (emphasis added); see also, Morales v. Westinghouse Hanford Co., 73 Wn.App. 367, 372, 869 P.2d 120 (Div. 3 1994) (holding that the Washington Legislature has emphasized the independent nature of the remedy provided by the Washington Law Against Discrimination) (emphasis added).  

The court in Reese v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. went on to hold that the “statutory scheme designed by the Legislature in RCW 49.60 confers on individual employees a substantive right to be free from unlawful employment discrimination and provides a personal cause of action to vindicate that right.” Id. (referencing RCW 49.60.030, .180, .230) (emphasis added).


Title VII claims are also independent statutory rights. The Washington State Supreme Court has held that in filing a lawsuit under Title VII, an employee asserts independent statutory rights accorded by the U.S. Congress that are distinctly separate in nature from other rights and which are not vitiated merely because they are violated with another right as a result of the same factual occurrence. Civil Service Com’n of City of Kelso v. City of Kelso, 137 Wn.2d 166, 175, 969 P.2d 474 (1999) (emphasis added).  

Moreover, the United States Supreme Court has echoed this sentiment. In Civil Service Com’n of City of Kelso v. City of Kelso, the court held that a statutory claim brought under Title VII is an independent cause of action when it does not turn on the meaning of any provision in the other claim, even though the two claims involve the same factual considerations. Id. at 175-76 (citing Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 409-10, 108 S.Ct. 1877, 100 L.Ed.2d 410 (1988)) (emphasis added). In Morales v. Westinghouse Hanford Co., the court held that Title VII statutory rights are legally independent rights. See Morales v. Westinghouse Hanford Co., 73 Wn.App. at 372 (citing International Union of Electrical Workers v. Robbins & Myers, Inc., 429 U.S. 229, 236, 97 S.Ct. 441, 446, 50 L.Ed.2d 427 (1976)) (emphasis added). And in Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., the court held that the legislative history of Title VII statutory rights manifests a congressional intent to allow an individual to pursue independently his rights under both Title VII (Civil Rights Act of 1964) and other applicable state and federal statutes. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 94 S.Ct. 1011, 1019, 415 U.S. 36 (1974).


I believe that, depending on the circumstances, claim splitting may not apply to WLAD claims and Title VII claims when they are pursued contemporaneously in separate causes of action.


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.

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