SPU lawsuit dismissed, investigation into LGBTQ+ discrimination continues
Oct 27, 2022, 10:35 AM
(AP Photo/Chris Grygiel)
Seattle Pacific University can not block the state from investigating whether the University discriminated against LGBTQ+ staff, a federal judge decided.
Judge Robert Bryan dismissed a lawsuit by the university looking to halt the investigation on the grounds of a First Amendment violation.
In a press release, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Judge Robert Bryan made that decision Wednesday, ruling that SPU was asking for a change in state law that can’t be granted by the federal court.
The ruling does open up the university to filing a motion in state court rather than federal if they want to halt the investigation.
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.
Students had a sit-in at the university president’s office. A group also handed pride flags to the president during commencement.
“Seattle Pacific University admits that it refuses to hire gay faculty and staff,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “In May, 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 school policies that prohibit employees from engaging in ‘same-sex sexual activity.’”
The University filed a lawsuit against the investigation in July, claiming Ferguson was interfering with the First Amendment religious beliefs of the university.
In a statement, SPU called the ruling “procedural” and did not address the broader First Amendment issue.
“We remain committed to serving our students and campus community in a way that honors our Christian faith and mission,” Pete Menjares, interim president of Seattle Pacific University, said in a comment to MyNorthwest.com.
“The government should not interfere with our ability to operate out of our sincerely held religious beliefs,” Menjares said. “We are disappointed with today’s ruling, but the court did not decide whether the state can investigate our university’s internal affairs.
“We will continue to defend ourselves from unlawful interference with our Christian mission.”
In his press release, Ferguson emphasized that the investigation was not targeted against the religious institution but rather upholding laws protecting against employment discrimination.
“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 a letter asking for information about its employment policies,” Ferguson said. “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.”
The Attorney General’s Office Wing Luke Civil Rights Division is still investigating the university’s hiring practices.