The plaintiff was a student at WSU?s experimental psychology program.?? ?She received financial assistance ?by ?working ?as ?a ?Teaching ?Assistant. She received several negative evaluations of her performance as a graduate student. ?She filed an internal ?charge ?of ?age ?discrimination.???? The faculty?? eventually?? dismissed? ?her? ?from? ?the program for academic reasons.
She filed numerous claims in court including employment related claims under the WLAD for retaliation and age discrimination. The Superior Court ?granted ?summary? judgment ?to ?the employer.?????? Division? ?III? ?assumed? ?without deciding that she was covered by the retaliation provisions, which protect ?any person? from retaliation.? ?The court found no evidence of causation between her protected activity and dismissal from the program.
The age discrimination provisions of the WLAD protect only employees. ?The plaintiff argued that she had an employment relationship with WSU because she had a part-time employment position with?? WSU.???? ?The? ?court?? responded?? to?? that argument by pointing out that her employment was contingent upon her full-time enrollment as a student. ?She was not performing satisfactorily as a student.?? The court then said the plaintiff ?cannot bring an age discrimination claim in this setting; moreover, she cannot move forward with her claim because her dismissal was the result of a legitimate non-discriminatory academic decision.?
The court?s decision could be read either as an acknowledgement or a disavowal of WLAD age discrimination coverage for graduate student teaching assistants.?? It isn?t clear whether ?this setting?? was ?a? reference? to ?her? status ?as ?a graduate student or her poor performance as a graduate student. ?The opinion?s ambiguity may be due to the fact it was originally not intended for publication but publication was granted at the employer?s request.
Becker v. WSU, 165 Wn. App. App. 235, 266 P.3d 893 (Div. 3 10/13/11; pub. 12/20/11) (Brown, Kormso, Sweeney).