Friday, May 23, 2014

Washington Supreme Court Says Anti-Discrimination Law Requires Reasonable Accommodation of Religious Beliefs

In Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., (WA Sup. Ct., May 22, 2014), the Washington state Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that Washington's Law Against Discrimination implies a requirement that employers reasonably accommodate employees' religious practices. It went on to hold that the employees of an airport food service company stated a prima facie claim for failure to reasonably accommodate their religious dietary needs. For security reasons the employees could not bring their own food to work or leave for lunch, so the company furnished meals. However employees allege that the beef-pork meatballs served did not meet their religious requirements, and that when they informed the company it initially deceived them into eating food that violated their religious beliefs and then refused to accept any of the employees' proposed accommodations. The majority found that the employees had also adequately stated claims for disparate impact, battery, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Justice Madsen's dissent argued that implying a cause of action for reasonable accommodation improperly encroaches on the legislature's function. Even if it is implied, it should not be applied on these facts because there was no actual or threatened adverse employment action taken against the employees.