Judge rejects SPU’s arguments that its hiring practices are immune from state law
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that a federal judge dismissed Seattle Pacific University’s attempt to stop his office’s investigation into potential illegal discrimination by the university’s administration.
“My office respects the religious views of all Washingtonians and the constitutional rights afforded to religious institutions,” Ferguson said. “As a person of faith, I share that view. Seattle Pacific University, however, is not above the law. Instead of answering questions about its hiring process, the university filed a federal lawsuit arguing that it is above the law to such an extraordinary degree that my office cannot even send it a letter asking for information about its employment policies. Today, a federal judge appropriately rejected that extreme position. It is our responsibility to uphold Washingtonians’ civil rights, and we plan to do that job.”
In May, Seattle Pacific University (SPU) students and staff staged a sit-in and called for the removal of the university’s board of trustees after they voted to keep in place the portion of the school’s policies that prohibit employees from engaging in “same-sex sexual activity.” Numerous SPU students and faculty complained to the Attorney General’s Office about the university’s policies, concerned that they illegally violate Washingtonians’ civil rights.
Ferguson sent the university a letter in response to these complaints from concerned Washingtonians. The letter asked four basic questions about the university’s policies.
The Attorney General’s Office did not publicize the letter, nor did Ferguson announce the investigation. In response to the inquiry, Seattle Pacific University filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington seeking to block the office from investigating its hiring practices. Soon after, in response to media inquiries, Ferguson publicly confirmed that his office was investigating the university’s policies, including a policy that may require the university to refuse to hire LGBTQ staff.
In August, Ferguson filed a motion to dismiss SPU’s lawsuit, asking the court to dismiss the university’s attempt to quash the investigation. In response, SPU filed an amended complaint, which Ferguson also moved to dismiss. Judge Robert Bryan granted that motion today, ruling that SPU is asking for a change in state law that the federal court cannot grant, and that any First Amendment arguments by the university should be raised in state court. Judge Bryan was appointed to the United States District Court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.
The Attorney General’s Office Wing Luke Civil Rights Division is still conducting its investigation into the university’s hiring practices. Anyone who believes they were subject to possible employment discrimination by SPU should contact the Civil Rights Division at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Assistant Attorney General Daniel Jeon, Litigation & Administrative Manager Keely Tafoya, and Legal Assistant Tiffany Jennings handled Washington’s motion to dismiss.
Ferguson created the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division in 2015 to protect the rights of all Washingtonians by enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Ferguson named the division for Wing Luke, who served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He went on to become the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council and the first Asian-American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com
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