What Does the Law Say?


Where is the law regarding sex discrimination in employment in Washington found?


The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) is found in Washington's statutory law under title 49, chapter 49.60.180. Additionally, Washington's state equali rights amendment, Article 31 of the constitution, defines sex equality and rights and responsibilities.


To whom does the law apply to?


Title 49 and Title 162 define employment discrimination and apply to all employers in Washington who employ eight or more employees. Article 31 states that equality of rights and responsibility under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.


Under the law, what is illegal?


Under the WLAD it is illegal to refuse to hire, discharge, bar, or discriminate against any women in compensation or in other terms or conditions of employment because of sex unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification. It is illegal for an employer, because of pregnancy or childbirth, to refuse to hire or promote, terminate, or demote, a woman; or impose different terms and conditions of employment on a woman. It is also illegal to base employment decisions or actions on negative assumptions about pregnant women. Finally, employee benefits provided in part or in whole by the employer must be equal for male and female employees.


What is sex discrimination?


Any practice or policy that treats women unfairly simply because they are women constitutes sex or gender discrimination. Such acts can either be overtly degrading to women (such as sexual harassment) or simply differential treatment toward women.


What constitutes sex or gender discrimination under Washington law?


Under the WLAD any action by an employer or labor organization to discriminate against someone on the basis of sex is gender discrimination. Additionally, adverse employment practices due to pregnancy, childbirth, and pregnancy-related conditions are defined as sex discrimination. Finally, anything that denies women equality of rights and responsibilities is sex discrimination.


What is an "employee" under Washington law?


An employee is any person who is employed by an employer in Washington not including an individual employed by his or her parents, spouse, or child, or in the domestic service of any person.


What is an "employer" under Washington law?


Under Washington law, an employer means, any person acting in the interest of an employer, directly or indirectly, who employs eight or more persons, and does not include any religious or sectarian organization not organized for private profit.


Are women a "protected class"?


Yes, the WLAD prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Therefore, women, as a gender classification, are considered a protected class.


Is there a federal law about sex discrimination?


Yes, three major federal laws prohibit sex discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits any discrimination in the workplace based on sex. It was amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which guarantees equal benefits to pregnant women. In addition, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 guarantees equal pay for equal work.


How does the state law compare with federal in terms of coverage?


The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) provides broader coverage than the federal law, Title VII, in several ways. First, the WLAD covers more employers than Title VII, as it covers employers with eight (8) or more employees while Title VII covers only employers with fifteen (15) or more employees. Second, in adopting an equal rights provision in its state constitution, Washington applies a more rigorous standard of review to sex-based classifications than the current federal standard. Washington applies what has been described as an "absolutist" standard, i.e. if the classification is based on sex, it is invalid, unless it is based upon physical differences between the sexes. Additionally, while Title VII does not provide a basis for a claim on discrimination based on sexual orientation, as of June 8, 2006, the WLAD will include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.


Is it ever okay for my employer to treat or impact women differently because of their sex?


Yes, under the WLAD, there is an exception to the rule than an employer may not discriminate on the basis of sex; that is if a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) applies. A BFOQ is an employment qualification that may discriminate against women, but is legally legitimate as long as it is reasonably necessary to the operation of the particular business. For example, a BFOQ may apply where it is necessary for the purpose of authenticity (e.g., model, actor, actress) or maintaining conventional standards of sexual privacy (e.g., locker room attendant, intimate apparel fitter).


In a nutshell, what must I prove to win my case?


Your ultimate burden is to show that gender was a "substantial factor" in your employer's adverse employment decision. In other words, your employer is liable for your injuries if its discriminatory conduct was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury even though other causes may have contributed to it.


What could my employer do to deny my allegations, and how do I respond to their denials?


In Washington, courts use a three-step analysis to evaluate discrimination cases. First, you must present initial evidence of discrimination -- for this step, the court will assume that everything you allege is true, and if it is sufficient to show that discrimination took place, the case will continue. Next, your employer will have an opportunity to provide non-discriminatory reasons for what happened. Finally, to prevail, you must rebut your employer's explanation.


You can demonstrate that your employer's reasons are unworthy of belief with evidence that:
1) your employer's reasons have no basis in fact;
2) even if the reasons are based on fact, your employer was not motivated by the reasons; or
3) the reasons are insufficient to motivate the adverse employment decision.


When a complaint is filed with the Commission, the Commission acts as a neutral fact-finder. The Commission is not an advocate for either side. Their role under the law is to gather facts about the situation and then determine whether there is cause to believe that discrimination occurred. The Commission will send a written notice to the person(s) alleged to have committed the act of discrimination. The Commission will ask for a written response to the charge. A Commission Investigator will investigate the complaint by gathering more evidence, interviewing witnesses, or conducting site visits.


Does it matter when the discrimination occurred?




There are four main ways to pursue a claim. First, there may be a local ordinance enforced by a local agency. Local deadlines for filing a complaint may vary. Check with the Washington State Human Rights Commission for more information which cities and counties have adopted antidiscrimination ordinances and their deadlines.


You can also file a federal claim through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You have 180 days from the last incident to file a charge with the EEOC. This 180-day filing deadline is extended to three hundred (300) days if the charge is also covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law such as the WLAD.


Third, you can file a claim through the Washington State Human Rights Commission. You must file your complaint with the Commission within six (6) months of the date of your employer's discriminatory conduct.


Lastly, you can file a private claim directly in court. Although the WLAD does not expressly provide for a particular statute of imitations for employment discrimination claims, courts apply a general three-year statute of limitations to WLAD claims.


What options do I have if my employer has fewer than 8 employees?


Unfortunately, under Washington law, if your employer has fewer than eight (8) employees, your legal options are severely limited. Employers with fewer than eight (8) employees are exempt from the WLAD. The Washington Supreme Court, however, found that the state has established a clear public policy against discrimination based on sex in both statute and judicial opinions. As a result, if you believe that you have been fired because of sex discrimination, you may have a claim for the common-law tort of wrongful discharge even if your employer has less than eight (8) employees.


Please note that this Supreme Court ruling does NOT change the WLAD the Human Rights Commission cannot investigate sex discrimination complaints against employers with less than eight (8) employees. Some cities and counties, however, have adopted ordinances that do protect employees of smaller employers. Check with the Washington State Human Rights Commission for more information which cities and counties have adopted such ordinances.


Who enforces the law?


The Washington State Human Rights Commission enforces the WLAD.


How do I file a claim of sex discrimination with the Washington State Human Rights Commission?


Click here to learn more about filing a claim with the Washington State Human Rights Commission.


If I prove my sex discrimination claim, what kind of remedies am I entitled to?


You may be entitled to equitable relief or monetary damages. For more information, please see Remedies.



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