Disparate Treatment: A Closer Look

Under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, how does a plaintiff establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment? Here's my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).



The McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework (Framework) has three steps:

STEP 1: The "plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, which creates a presumption of discrimination." Scrivener v. Clark College, 181 Wn.2d 439, 446, 334 P.3d 541, (2014) (citing, Riehl, 152 Wn.2d at 149-50; Kastanis v. Educ. Emps. Credit Union, 122 Wn.2d 483, 490, 859 P.2d 26, 865 P.2d 507 (1993)) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added).

STEP 2: "[T]he burden shifts to the defendant, who must articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action." Mikkelsen v. Public Utility District No. 1 of Kittitas County, 189 Wn.2d 516, 527 (Wash. 2017) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added).

STEP 3"[I]f the defendant meets this burden, the plaintiff must produce sufficient evidence showing that the defendant's alleged nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action was a pretext." Id. (internal citations omitted) (emphasis & hyperlink added). 

(To learn about the entire Framework and how it is applied, read our recent article entitled: The McDonnell Douglas Burden-Shifting Framework)


Disparate treatment is a legal theory that occurs "when an employer treats some people less favorably than others" because of membership in a protected class. Alonso v. Qwest Communications Company, 178 Wn.App. 734, 753-54, 315 P.3d 610 (Wash.App.Div. 2 2013). "To esablish a prima facie disparate treatment case, a plaintiff must show that his employer simply treats some people less favorably than others because of their protected status." Id. (citing Johnson v. Dep't of Soc. & Health servs., 80 Wn.App. 212, 226, 907 P.2d 1223 (1996)) (hyperlink added). There are several formulations for the elements of a prima facie case of disparate treatment. For example, take our disparate treatment tests based on (1) termination of employment; and (2) adverse employment 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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