Washington Supreme Court Finds Implied Duty of Religious Accommodation in Discrimination Law

If you’re an employer in Washington state and thought you don’t have to make reasonable accommodation for your employees’ religious beliefs, think again. That state’s supreme court has just ruled that this duty is implied under the state’s law against discrimination.

That law prohibits discrimination based on religion, as do regulations promulgated by the state’s human rights commission. But neither mentions reasonable accommodation of religious practices.

Comes now the state supreme court to declare that even though the law against discrimination doesn’t expressly require religious accommodation, such a duty is implied.

As such, workers at Seattle’s international airport can pursue a lawsuit alleging their employer illegally barred them from bringing their own lunches for security reasons, but failed to accommodate religious dietary requirements for lunches that it provides.

The ruling was 5 to 4, which means that if the composition of the court changes by one judge, it could go the other way. And there was a vigorous dissent, accusing the majority of fashioning this reasonable accommodation out of whole cloth.

But for now–and until and if the ruling is reversed–reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs and practices is the law of the land in Washington state.

The case is Kumar v. Gate Gourmet. You can download and read the decision at http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/880620.pdf.

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