Constitutionality of Washington anti-discrimination exemption for religious non-profits certified to State Supreme Court

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Ockletree v. Franciscan Health System, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175515 (WD WA, Dec. 11, 2012), a Washington federal district court certified to the Washington Supreme Court the question of whether the broad blanket exemption in the Washington Law Against Discrimination for non-profit religious organizations is constitutional under the Washington state constitution.  Under Wash. Rev. Code 49.60.040 the definition of “employer” subject to the state’s anti-discrimination law excludes “any religious or sectarian organization not organized for private profit.”  Here plaintiff, a security officer at a Catholic Hospital, claims he was discharged from his job on the basis of disability and race. In certifying the question, the court said:

The discrimination Ockletree claims (race and disability) is wholly unrelated to FHS’ religious purpose, practice, or activity. It is not clear to this Court that WLAD’s broad exemption is constitutional, at least in this context.