Washington AG starts discrimination investigation into SPU over anti-LGBTQ+ hiring practices

Jul 29, 2022, 1:00 PM

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Washington State Attorney General has announced today that they would begin a discrimination investigation into Seattle Pacific University over the school’s policy that restricts hiring professors in same-sex relationships.

After receiving multiple complaints from students, faculty, and staff about the policy, the Attorney General’s Office began investigating the issue. There has also been a series of protests against the policy, including a sit-in at the university president’s office and handing pride flags to the president during commencement.

Did SPU break any laws in its decision to stop hiring LGBTQ faculty?

“Seattle Pacific University admits that it refuses to hire gay faculty and staff,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “In May, Seattle Pacific University 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 school policies that prohibit employees from engaging in ‘same-sex sexual activity.’”

When the investigation began, Ferguson sent a letter to SPU asking for more information to clarify before making any judgments on the policy’s legality. Specifically pertaining to the exact details of the policy, how it has been applied in the past, any internal complaints about the policy, and all jobs and job descriptions that the policy is applied towards.

While there have not been any claims from the Attorney General’s office that Seattle Pacific University engaged in any illegal hiring practices, he did cite Woods v. Seattle Union Gospel Mission, a Washington Supreme court case that ruled religious exemption does not apply to protect against discrimination lawsuits for hiring based on sexual identity under the Washington Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause.

The statement follows the university’s lawsuit filed in District Court seeking to block the investigation.

In a response to the investigation, Seattle Pacific University has announced that they would file a lawsuit claiming the investigation is a violation of the first amendment rights of the school under the clause guaranteeing the free exercise of religion.

“Mr. Ferguson recently singled out Seattle Pacific because of its Christian beliefs, demanding information about the school’s religious hiring practices and employees,” Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket law firm, said in a statement. “For years, American courts have been clear that external officials cannot dictate how religious institutions live out their faith commitments. Our laws protect religious universities from unlawful demands by governmental officials.”

The attorney general’s office provided a copy of the lawsuit in which SPU claims its own constitutional protections are being violated.

“We did not publicize the letter, nor did we announce our investigation. In response to our inquiry, Seattle Pacific University filed a federal lawsuit … “The lawsuit demonstrates that the University believes it is above the law to such an extraordinary degree that it is shielded from answering basic questions from my office regarding the University’s compliance with state law. Seattle Pacific University’s attempt to obstruct our lawful investigation will not succeed.”

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Washington AG starts discrimination investigation into SPU over anti-LGBTQ+ hiring practices