Washington high court rules sexual orientation discrimination law not retroactive

Washington high court rules sexual orientation discrimination law not retroactive

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[JURIST] The Washington Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that the amended Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) [materials], which now includes gays and lesbians, is not retroactive in its effect. The WLAD was amended in 2006 to protect gays and lesbians against discrimination. The plaintiff sued her superior at the University of Washington for discrimination based on sexual orientation. The court decided whether the WLAD applied retroactively, and whether pre-amendment and post-amendment acts by the defendant were admissible. The court held that the WLAD did not apply retroactively and the pre-amendment conduct was not admissible because it was not unlawful when it occurred. The court stated:

Because the WLAD amendment applies prospectively only, Loeffelholz cannot recover for acts that occurred prior to the amendment. To do so would hold the University liable for conduct that was not unlawful at the time it was committed. This would violate the core tenet of retroactivity jurisprudence that “individuals should have an opportunity to know what the law is and to conform their conduct accordingly.”

The court remanded the case to determine the merits of the plaintiff’s claim based on the acts of her superior post-amendment.

Sexual orientation discrimination remains a controversial issue. Last month an inn in Vermont settled [JURIST report] a discrimination case brought by a same-sex couple who was turned away from the holding their wedding reception at the inn because of the owner’s views on same-sex marriage. Also in August the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) asked [JURIST report] the Supreme Court to review the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive], which denies federal recognition to same-sex marriages. In June a lawyer for a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender plaintiffs in Tennessee said that she would appeal [JURIST report] the decision of a Tennessee County judge dismissing a lawsuit challenging a controversial law. The suit challenged Tennessee’s Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act (EAIC) which bars local governments from creating anti-discrimination laws that are stricter than those of the state.