Earlier this year, the Washington State Supreme Court handed down its decision in Floeting v. Group Health Coop., 434 P.3d 39 (Wash. 2019), ruling that places of public accommodation are strictly liable for illegal discrimination by their employees (including for claims of sexual harassment). Points from the decision include:
• Under the plain language of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), employers are directly liable for the sexual harassment of members of the public by their employees (just as they would be if their employees turned customers away because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation).
• An employer will be strictly liable if its employee caused the harm prohibited by the statute–from the first such event–even if it did not participate in the discrimination and was not negligent in training or supervising its employees.
• There is no statutorily required pervasiveness or severity requirement for discriminatory conduct in the public accommodations context. A single discriminatory act in a place of public accommodation may violate the WLAD. (However, the conduct must be “objectively discriminatory” under the “reasonable person” standard.)
• The Court reasoned: “If employers know that the only way they can prevent lawsuits is by preventing their employees from discriminating at all, they will try even harder to make sure that their employees are well trained, are well supervised, and do not discriminate.”
The scope of "any place of public resort, accommodation, assemblage, or amusement" (defined at RCW 49.60.040(2)) includes: grocery stores, retail stores, gas stations, hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, banks, theaters, concert halls, sports arenas, museums, auditoriums, convention halls, taxis, private bus lines, barber shops and beauty salons, doctor and dentist offices, fitness centers, and nonprofit organizations, such as food banks, shelters and senior centers.
Feel free to share your thoughts on this decision.