Debra Loeffelholz worked at the University of Washington.?? ?From ?2003-2006, ?her? supervisor was James Lukehart. ?In 2003 he asked her if she was gay. ?After she replied that she was, he told her not to flaunt it.?? Over the next three years, Lukehart?? ?regularly?? ?discussed?? ?his?? ?hostility?towards other people and talked about getting revenge. ?He told her he had a gun. ?Lukehart also denied Loeffelholz training, evaluations and advancement. ?Soon before his deployment to Iraq in June 2006 he told the work-group he was ?going to come back a very angry man.? ?After Lukehart was deployed to Iraq, Loeffelholz learned that Lukehart had told people he disliked her because she was gay and overweight, and had tried to fire her.
Loeffelholz filed suit against UW and Lukehart in May 2009. ?The Superior Court dismissed her case on the basis that the 2006 amendments to the WLAD that included sexual orientation as a protected category were not retroactive.? ?The Superior Court also found no acts of a hostile work environment based on sexual orientation had occurred in the three years before Loeffelholz filed suit.?? The Court of Appeals reversed on the basis that a jury could find that Lukehart?s ?very angry man? comment was based on hostility towards Loeffelholz?s sexual orientation.
The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed in an opinion by Justice Owens.?? The Court held that retroactive application of the 2006 amendment to any pre-amendment conduct would violate due process. ?The Court held that a jury could consider Lukehart?s pre-amendment conduct as background evidence to prove his discriminatory intent for any actionable post-amendment conduct. ?In contrast to the reasoning of the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that Loeffelhelz could recover damages only for Lukehart?s post-amendment conduct. Lukehart?s only post-amendment conduct was the ?very angry man? comment.
The Supreme Court held that while the relationship between that comment and Lukehart?s earlier hostility is ?tenuous,? a jury could find the ?very angry ?man ?comment? ?was ?specially ?directed ?to?Loeffelhelz because of her sexual orientation and a natural extension of his prior animus towards her.???? The ?Court ?held ?that ?the ??standard ?for linking discriminatory acts together in a hostile work environment is not high.??? Here that was met because Lukehart had anger management issues and kept a gun in his vehicle. ?The Court specifically distinguished Crownover v. Dep?t of Transp., ?165 ?Wn.? App. ?131, ?265 ?P.2d ?971 (2011), on the grounds that there the only timely conduct was innocuous.
In a puzzling statement, the Court held that ?the preamendment? ?conduct? ?establishes?? that? ?the ?angry man? comment could be severe enough, on its own, to alter the conditions of employment and establish a hostile work environment.?? We recognize that a single act of harassment is rarely enough to establish a prima facie claim, but this case presents ?a unique ?set? of facts.??? ?But? the Court then left open the possibility that the defendants might still be entitled to summary judgment on whether there was sufficient post- WLAD amendment conduct to create a hostile work environment on the basis of sexual orientation? and? whether ?the ?very angry man? comment actually occurred pre- or post- amendment.
Loeffelholz v. University of Washington (9/13/12)