Stray-Remarks Doctrine and Employment Discrimination (WA State)

Stray-Remarks Doctrine and Employment Discrimination (WA State)

In Washington State, do courts apply the Stray-Remarks Doctrine to employment discrimination cases? Here's my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).



Under the Stray-Remarks Doctrine, courts will disregard stray remarks that do not give rise to an inference of discriminatory intent. See Scrivener v. Clark College, 181 Wn.2d 439, 450, 334 P.3d 541 (Wash. 2014) (referencing Scrivener v. Clark Coll., 176 Wn.App. 405, 415, 309 P.3d 613 (2013), review granted, 179 Wn.2d 1009, 316 P.3d 495 (2014)). 

This Doctrine was rejected by the Washington State Supreme Court in Scrivener. Id.


In Scrivener, "Kathryn Scrivener sued Clark College, claiming that age was the reason it did not hire her for a tenure track teaching position. She was 55 years old at the time, squarely within the 40- to 70-year-old age range protected by the WLAD … [;] [t]he chosen hires were both under the age of 40." Id. at 411.

"The trial court granted summary judgment in Clark College's favor, finding that Scrivener failed to prove that the college's stated reason for its decision was a pretext." Id. at 411. "The Court of Appeals affirmed." Id. at 411 (internal citations omitted). 

Particularly, "[t]he Court of Appeals disregarded President Branch's statements in the State of the College address as stray remarks that do not give rise to an inference of discriminatory intent." Id. at 450 (referencing Scrivener, 176 Wn.App. at 415) (emphasis added). President Branch's associated statements were as follows:

The most glaring need for diversity [in Clark College's workforce] is in our need for younger talent. 74% of Clark College's workforce is over forty. And though I have a great affinity for people in this age group, employing people who bring different perspective will only benefit our college and community.

Id. at 449 (alteration in original). 

The Washington State Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals' treatment of Branch's above statements. See id. at 450. It determined that "[w]hether or not these statements alone would be sufficient to show either pretext or that Scrivener's age was a substantially motivating factor, they are circumstantial evidence probative of discriminatory intent." Id. at 450 (referencing Reid v. Google, Inc., 50 Cal.4th 512, 538-46, 235 P.3d 988, 113 Cal.Rptr.3d 327 (2010) ( (footnote omitted) (emphasis added).


"In Reid, the California Supreme Court rejected the stray remarks doctrine." Id. at 451, fn. 3 (internal citation omitted). "Under this doctrine, statements that non-decision-makers make or that decision makers make outside of the decisional process are deemed 'stray,' and they are irrelevant and insufficient to avoid summary judgment." Id. (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). "The court rejected the doctrine because it was 'unnecessary and its categorical exclusion of evidence might lead to unfair results.' " Id. (internal citation omitted). "The court noted, 'An age-based remark not made directly in the context of an employment decision or uttered by a non-decision-maker may be relevant, circumstantial evidence of discrimination.'" Id. (internal citation omitted). 

The Washington State Supreme Court agreed. Id.


Thus, in Washington State, it appears that courts do not apply the Stray-Remarks Doctrine to employment discrimination cases. 


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; please see our DISCLAIMER.


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