Public Accommodations: Liability From Single Acts

Public Accommodations: Liability From Single Acts

Under Washington State public accommodations laws, can a single discriminatory act create liability? Here's my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).



The Washington State public accommodations law is found under Washington Law Against Discrimination, and it states as follows:

Unfair practices of places of public resort, accommodation, assemblage, amusement—Trained dog guides and service animals.

It shall be an unfair practice for any person or the person's agent or employee to commit an act which directly or indirectly results in any distinction, restriction, or discrimination, or the requiring of any person to pay a larger sum than the uniform rates charged other persons, or the refusing or withholding from any person the admission, patronage, custom, presence, frequenting, dwelling, staying, or lodging in any place of public resort, accommodation, assemblage, or amusement, except for conditions and limitations established by law and applicable to all persons, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, sexual orientation, sex, honorably discharged veteran or military status, status as a mother breastfeeding her child, 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: PROVIDED, That this section shall not be construed to require structural changes, modifications, or additions to make any place accessible to a person with a disability except as otherwise required by law: PROVIDED, That behavior or actions constituting a risk to property or other persons can be grounds for refusal and shall not constitute an unfair practice.

RCW 49.60.215

Thus, "[t]he Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) makes it unlawful for 'any person or the person's agent or employee to commit an act [of] discrimination … in any place of public … accommodation." Floeting v. Group Health Cooperative,, 192 Wn.2d 848, 850 (Wash. 2019) (citing RCW 49.60.215) (first alteration added; remining alterations in original).


"There is no statutorily required pervasiveness or severity requirement for discriminatory conduct in the public accommodations context." Id., 192 Wn.2d 848, 858 (Wash. 2019) (referencing ch. 49.60 RCW) (footnote omitted). 

"A single discriminatory act in a place of public accommodation may violate WLAD." Id. (referencing, e.g., King v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 61 Or.App. 197, 199-201, 656 P.2d 349 (1982) ("interpreting a provision similar to the WLAD and holding bus company liable for an employee's use of two racial slurs toward a customer"); accord Evergreen Sch. Dist. No. 114 v. Wash. State Human Rights Comm'n, 39 Wn.App. 763, 774, 695 P.2d 999 (1985)).


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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