WA Legal Roundup
Only one case out of the WA Supreme Court today, but its a doozy. In a win for domestic violence victims and their advocates, the WA Supreme Court was certified the following question from the Federal District Court of the Western District of Washington:
Has the State of Washington established a clear mandate of public policy prohibiting an employer from discharging an at-will employee because she experienced domestic violence and took leave from work to take actions to protect herself, her family, and to hold her abuser accountable?
The court then reformulated the question, so as to avoid making assumptions as to facts:
Has the State of Washington established a clear mandate of public policy of protecting domestic violence survivors and their families and holding their abusers accountable?
The case essentially arises over a worker who was hired and promoted. She was suffering extreme domestic violence, and, after an incident where he son had to be hospitalized by the abuse, she took time off to move her family (approved). She had requested time off earlier for the same, but was denied. After returning to work, she was demoted and ultimately dismissed for time records violations.
The court first examined the standard of at-will employment, and the "narrow exception" of wrongful termination, which covers terminations that clearly violate public policy. The elements of wrongful discharge are:
(1) "the existence of a clear public policy (the clarity element);" (2) "that discouraging the conduct in which [she] engaged would jeopardize the public policy (the jeopardy element);" (3) "that the public-policy-linked conduct caused the dismissal (the causation element);" and (4) "[Laidlaw] must not be able to offer an overriding justification for the dismissal (the absence of justification element)."
(citing Gardner v. Loomis Armored, Inc., 128 Wn.2d 931, 941, 913 P.2d 377 (1996)). The court then went on to address the myriad of ways in which the legislature had acted to protect victims of domestic violence, including children. The court also highlighted the executive's efforts at curtailing such abuse. The court found a similar expression in the state constitution via the Crime Victim Amendment. Finally, the court turned to its own repeated finding of public policy via their opinion.
The court made short order of the floodgate's argument presented by Laidlaw:
Laidlaw's parade of horribles is unfounded. Our holding will in no way open the floodgates of litigation. The clarity element is merely one of the elements Danny and future plaintiffs must successfully establish in order to maintain a wrongful discharge claim. Plaintiffs like Danny must also satisfy the jeopardy, causation, and absence of justification elements of the wrongful discharge tort.
The majority also chided the concurrence and dissent in their efforts to analyze the action taken by the Plaintiff in leaving work in isolation from her action to move in order to prevent domestic violence:
In Gardner, this court recognized that absenteeism is protected when it is part and parcel of the public-policy-protecting actions. There, the employer argued that it discharged the armored truck driver solely because he left the truck, not because he saved a woman's life. This court explicitly rejected that reasoning, saying, "Gardner's leaving the truck cannot be analyzed in isolation: his initial act of getting out of the truck is inextricably intertwined with his motive for leaving it and his subsequent actions."
I am glad that WA has found such a policy, every little bit of help that victims of domestic violence can get puts them one step closer to leaving these often-trapping situations.