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On January 31, 2019, the Washington Supreme Court held in Floeting v. Group Health Cooperative, No. 95205-1, that under the plain language of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”), employers are held strictly liable for their employee’s discriminatory conduct toward a customer in a place of public accommodation.

In this case, plaintiff alleged that a Group Health Cooperative employee repeatedly sexually harassed him while he was seeking medical treatment. Plaintiff sued Group Health for the unwelcome and offensive sexual conduct he experienced. Group Health argued that workplace sexual harassment doctrines should be imported into the public accommodations context, categorically limiting employer liability. The trial court dismissed his claim on summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed.

The Washington Supreme Court noted that under the plain language of the 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. The Court found that to be actionable, the asserted discriminatory conduct must be objectively discriminatory. The Court also found that the employer will be liable if its employee caused the harm prohibited by the statute, even if it did not participate in the discrimination and was not negligent in training or supervising its employees. The Glasgow1 standard for sexual discrimination committed by an employee against a coworker in the employment context does not apply to claims for discrimination in places of public accommodation.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Soha & Lang, P.S. or its clients.

1. Glasgow v. Ga.-Pac. Corp., 103 Wn.2d 401 (1985).