Washington Supreme Court opens door to compelling religious organizations to hire LGBT applicants

by Jeffrey Swindoll · Mar 6th, 2021 1:05 pm
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Last Updated Mar 8th, 2021 at 9:02 am

The Washington Supreme Court this week reversed a lower court's decision that had dismissed attorney Matt Woods‘ lawsuit against Seattle's Union Gospel Mission (SUGM) for not hiring him after learning he was in a same-sex relationship. Woods had also told the organization he could see himself "marrying a man and starting a family with another man."

King County Superior Court Judge Karen Donohue originally ruled two years ago that SUGM acted within its rights as a religious nonprofit, which exempts them from the state's anti-discrimination law.

The state's high court ordered that the case be reopened in the lower court, two years after the original ruling.

"To get the affirmation from the court that religious organizations don't have a right to blanket discriminate against LGBTQ people for who they are no matter what the job is a big relief," Woods said. "Especially for members of my community that are so much more likely to experience discrimination in the workplace because of their race or gender identity."

The Washington Supreme Court concluded the original decision "does not facially violate" the state's constitution. However, Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the majority opinion that the court recognizes that the provision to exempt religious nonprofit groups from anti-discrimination laws "may still be unconstitutional as applied to Woods."

"It is best left to the trial court to determine whether staff attorneys can qualify as ministers and, consequently, whether Woods' discrimination claim under [Washington's Law Against Discrimination] must be barred," Madsen said.


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