Appellant-employer filed an appeal from a decision of the Court of Appeals, which reversed a ruling entered in the Superior Court, granting appellant’s motion for partial summary judgment and dismissing appellee-employee’s wrongful discharge claim. The Supreme Court of Washington affirmed the appellate court’s decision, holding that appellee properly stated a cause of action for the tort of wrongful discharge based on the clearly articulated public policy against sex discrimination in employment. When appellee was on unpaid maternity leave, appellant discharged appellee, claiming that the position was no longer available due to a business slowdown. Appellant re-advertized the position one year later, but when appellee applied she was refused reemployment. Appellee claims the reason given for her discharge (i.e., economic slowdown) was pretextual, whereas the real reason for her discharge was that she was pregnant. Appellee filed a claim for common law wrongful discharge in violation of the public policy against sex discrimination. Although an indefinite employment contract is generally terminable at will, an exception to the at-will rule exists in the form of a common law cause of action in tort for wrongful discharge of an employee where the discharge contravenes a clear mandate of public policy. In this case, public policy against gender discrimination is grounded in the constitution, statute, and prior court decisions. Therefore, the Supreme Court of Washington affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, as appellee properly stated a cause of action for the tort of wrongful discharge based on the clearly articulated public policy against sex discrimination in employment.
Women and Justice: Keywords
Plaintiff-ex-employee challenged the jury instruction given by the Superior Court, which directed the jury to find in plaintiff’s favor in a discrimination case brought pursuant to Wash. Rev. Code § 49.60.180(2), only if it concluded, inter alia, that gender was the determining factor in the decision by defendant ex-employer to discharge plaintiff. RCW 49.60.180(2) provides that “[i]t is an unfair practice for any employer . . . (2) [t]o discharge or bar any person from employment because of age, sex, marital status, race, creed, color, national origin, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained guide dog or service dog by a disabled person.” The Supreme Court of Washington declined to read the “because of” language of the statute, as requiring proof that one of the attributes enumerated in RCW 49.60.180(2) was a “determining factor” in the employer’s adverse employment decision. Rather, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision, holding that in order to prevail on a discrimination claim brought pursuant to RCW 49.60.180(2), plaintiff only needed to prove that her gender was a “substantial factor” in defendant’s decision to terminate her employment.
While she was working at Laidlaw, plaintiff and her five children experienced ongoing domestic violence at the hands of her husband. Plaintiff requested time off to remove herself and her children from the abusive situation, was refused, and was subsequently given paid time off for 15 days, in which she availed of police, legal, and advocacy assistance. Shortly after returning to work, defendant first demoted plaintiff and subsequently terminated plaintiff’s employment stating as a reason falsification of payroll records. Plaintiff filed her complaint against defendant, alleging that Laidlaw terminated her employment in violation of public policy and Washington's Law Against Discrimination, RCW 49.60. Absent a contract to the contrary, Washington employees are generally terminable “at will,” with a narrow exception for the common law tort of wrongful discharge, which applies when an employer terminates an employee for reasons that contravene a clearly mandated public policy. As one element of this tort, the plaintiff needed to establish “the existence of a clear public policy (the clarity element).” The Supreme Court of Washington reformulated the certified question from the District Court as follows: Has Washington established a clear mandate of public policy of protecting domestic violence survivors and their families and holding their abusers accountable? The Supreme Court of Washington answered the question in the affirmative, holding that plaintiff had satisfied the “clarity” element of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, because Washington unequivocally established, through legislative, judicial, constitutional, and executive expressions, a clear mandate of public policy of protecting domestic violence survivor and their families and holding abusers accountable. On remand, the Supreme Court of Washington instructed the District Court to determine whether employee satisfied the jeopardy element of the tort by showing that the time she took off from work was the only available adequate means to prevent domestic violence against herself or her children by evaluating the nature of the danger, the particular actions she undertook, and the details of her work schedule.
One of the parties’ children accused petitioner of sexual assault, including improper touching of her breasts and vaginal area on multiple occasions. During an interview with Child Protective Services (CPS), the child denied any improper touching, but subsequently stated that petitioner had cautioned her against disclosing any information about the improper touching. Additionally, in a written declaration, petitioner had admitted to rubbing aloe vera on the naked body of the child. As a result, respondent sought and received a domestic violence protection order against petitioner under Wash. Rev. Code 26.50 , prohibiting contact between petitioner and respondent and their three children. Petitioner appealed, arguing that, in granting the petition for protection order, the commissioner improperly considered hearsay evidence and violated his due process rights when he refused to allow cross-examination of the child, who made the accusation. The Supreme Court of Washington held that the rules of evidence need not be applied in ex parte protection order proceedings and, therefore, the commissioner did not err when he considered hearsay evidence in issuing the protection order. Furthermore, denial to allow cross-examination of the child did not violate petitioner’s due process rights, because nothing in the statutory scheme explicitly requires allowing respondent in a domestic violence protection order proceeding to cross-examine a minor who accused him of sexual abuse.
Defendant was charged with assault stemming from a domestic violence incident. At his arraignment, the court entered a no-contact order, forbidding defendant to have any contact with his victim for a period of one year. Defendant was found guilty of the assault. He resumed cohabitation with the victim, although both were aware that the no-contact order remained in effect. Two months later, the police department received a hang-up 911 call from the apartment shared by defendant and the victim. The state charged defendant with violation of domestic violence no-contact order (pre-conviction). Defendant contended that the no-contact order had expired upon Schultz's conviction. The Supreme Court of Washington held that a no-contact order entered at arraignment under RCW 10.99.040(3) does not expire upon a finding of guilt in a domestic violence prosecution but remains in effect until the defendant's sentencing. As a sentencing condition, pursuant to RCW 10.99.050(1), the trial court may issue a new no-contact order, or it may extend the existing order by clearly indicating on the judgment and sentence that the order is to remain in effect. Here, the no-contact order entered under RCW 10.99.040(3) at defendant’s arraignment was permissibly extended as a sentencing condition and thus remained in effect until its stated expiration date.
Plaintiff-child and parents sued defendant-school district, principal and teacher, alleging that teacher had sexually abused the child and the district and principal were negligent in hiring and supervising the teacher. In a responsive pleading, defendant-school district and principal asserted as affirmative defense that plaintiff’s voluntary participation in the sexual relationship with defendant teacher constituted contributory fault. The trial court certified to the Supreme Court of Washington a question whether a 13-year-old victim of sexual abuse, who brought a negligence action, could have contributory fault assessed against her under the Washington Tort Reform Act. The Supreme Court of Washington held that, as a matter of law, a child under the age of 16 could not have contributory fault assessed against her for participating in sexual activities. Plaintiff lacked the capacity to consent and was under no legal duty to protect herself from sexual abuse. Societal interests embodied in the criminal laws protecting children from sexual abuse applied equally in the civil arena when harm was caused to the child by an adult perpetrator of sexual abuse or a third party in a position to control that person’s conduct. Furthermore, the idea that a student had a duty to protect herself from sexual abuse at school by her teacher conflicted with the well-established law that a school district had an enhanced and solemn duty to protect minor students in its care.