Absence of Agency Implementing Rules (WA State)

Absence of Agency Implementing Rules (WA State)

Under Washington State laws, how do courts proceed in the absence of agency implementing rules when addressing associated statute-based issues? Here's my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).


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ABSENCE OF AGENCY IMPLEMENTING RULES (WA STATE)

A Washington State agency "cannot promulgate a rule that exceeds its statutory mandate … neither can it diminish statutory protections by failing to act.Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., 180 Wn.2d 481, 495, 325 P.3d 193 (Wash. 2014) (footnote omitted) (emphasis added). 

Thus, when authorized Washington agencies fail to promulgate any implementing rules for statutes, courts must still recognize implicit requirements in those subject statutes. See id. at 496 (referencing Am. Cont'l Ins. Co. v. Steen, 151 Wn.2d 512, 518, 91 P.3d 864 (2004) ("in interpreting a statute, the court's 'primary objective is to ascertain and give effect to the [legislature's] intent and purpose'")) (internal citation omitted).

EXAMPLE: KUMAR v. GATE GOURMET, INC.

For example, in Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., 180 Wn.2d 481, 325 P.3d 193 (Wash. 2014), an employer’s meal policy that was based on security concerns barred employees from bringing in their own food for lunch; and it required employees to eat only employer-provided food. However, the policy forced a group of plaintiff-employees to either work without food or eat food that violated their religious beliefs (i.e., a protected class falling under "creed"). 

The plaintiffs subsequently filed suit and alleged that the employer maintained a facially neutral meal policy that fell more harshly on those within a protected class. "The trial court dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety, finding that the WLAD [(i.e., Washington Law Against Discrimination)] contains no requirement that employers make reasonable accommodations for their employees' religious practices." Id. at 486. The plaintiffs appealed to the WA State Supreme Court.

Therein, Defendant-employer, Gate Gourmet, "[made] much of the fact that the HRC [(i.e., WA State Human Rights Commission)] has promulgated rules requiring employers to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities, arguing that the HRC would have issued an identical rule mandating religious accommodations if it believed the WLAD required them." Id. at 495. 

The Court concluded, inter alia, that "the HRC's rules did not create the reasonable accommodation requirement for disability--they merely implemented a requirement already inherent in the WLAD itself." Id. (referencing Holland v. Boeing Co., 90 Wn.2d 384, 388-89, 583 P.2d 621 (1978) ("finding a reasonable-accommodation-for-disability requirement inherent in the 'legislative policy' embodied in the WLAD, even though that statute did not employ the term 'accommodation'" )) (footnote omitted). However, the Court declared that "[e]ven if the HRC had failed to promulgate any rules requiring reasonable accommodations for employee disabilities, this court would still have been required to recognize that implicit requirement in the WLAD's provisions." Id. at 495-96 (referencing Am. Cont'l Ins. Co. v. Steen, 151 Wn.2d 512, 518, 91 P.3d 864 (2004) ("in interpreting a statute, the court's 'primary objective is to ascertain and give effect to the [legislature's] intent and purpose'" (citing State v. Watson, 146 Wn.2d 947, 954, 51 P.3d 66 (2002)))) (emphasis added).  

Thus, the Court found that "with or without recourse to implementing rules, this court must interpret RCW 49.60.180 so as to give effect to the legislature's intent. In this case, that means choosing between two competing interpretations of the statute: the interpretation that says it implies a reasonable-accommodation-for-religion requirement and the interpretation that says it lacks such a requirement." Id. at 496. Ultimately, the Court found, inter alia, that "the employees … stated a claim for failure to reasonably accommodate their religious practices[ ]" – reversing the trial court’s previous dismissal and remanding the case for further proceeding consistent with the opinion. Kumar, 180 Wn.2d at 503.

CONCLUSION

"[W]ith or without recourse to implementing rules, … [Washington] court[s] must interpret … [statutes] so as to give effect to the legislature's intent." Id. at 496.

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; please see our DISCLAIMER.

–gw

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