Washington Supreme Court Clarifies the Elements of Age Discrimination Suits in Washington
Recently, the Washington Supreme Court clarified that, under Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), an employee may bring an age discrimination case to trial if he or she can state a prima facie case and show there are genuine issues of material fact about whether discrimination was a substantial factor motivating the employer’s adverse employment action. An employee need not disprove all legitimate reasons that an employer might have for making an adverse employment decision.
In Scrivener v. Clark College, Kathryn Scrivener, a 55-year-old college instructor, brought a suit for age discrimination against her employer, Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. Her lawsuit followed a decision by the college’s then-president to hire two applicants under the age of 40 for tenure track teaching positions that Scrivener had applied for. Scrivener presented evidence that she had met all of the qualifications for the positions and that the president’s public statements that he intended to hire younger faculty showed a bias against Scrivener.
Under the WLAD, it is an unlawful practice for an employer to refuse to hire or promote someone on the basis of age if that person is between the ages of 40 and 70. Demonstrating that age is a “substantial factor” in an adverse employment action requires evidence that age was a significant motivating factor in the employer’s decision—not evidence that age was the sole or “determining” factor in the decision.
Overruling decisions by the Court of Appeals and the Clark County Superior Court, the Washington Supreme Court held that Scrivener had presented enough evidence of her age discrimination claim that she will have the opportunity to try to prove her case at trial.