Plaintiff? was ?employed ?as ?a? security guard.? ?While employed by Franciscan? Health System (FHS), he suffered a stroke that impaired his nondominant arm. ?FHS determined he could not ?perform ?the ?essential ?functions ?of? his ?job with or without accommodation, refused his requested accommodation, and terminated his employment.? ?Plaintiff brought multiple causes of action in state court, including employment discrimination on the basis of race and disability in violation of federal law and the WLAD. ?The employer removed the case to federal court, and then? moved? to? dismiss? several? of ?plaintiff?s claims including his claims under the WLAD. ?In particular, the defendant? argued? that plaintiff?s claims ?under ?the? WLAD ?were? foreclosed ?by virtue of the exemption for religious non-profit corporations contained in RCW 49.60.040(11). The plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of the exemption pursuant to state and federal law and the federal court certified the state constitutional question to the Washington State Supreme Court. ?The certified question addressed the constitutionality of the exemptions for religious nonprofit corporations pursuant to Art. I, Section 11 and Art. I, Section 12 of the Washington Constitution.
The Court filed three separate opinions. The first opinion, designated as the lead opinion, was authored by Justice Charles Johnson, in which Justices Madsen, Owens, and James Johnson joined. ?A second opinion, designated as the dissenting opinion, was authored by Justice Stephens, in which Justices Gonzales, Fairhurst, and Gordon-McCloud joined.?? A third opinion, designated as concurring in part and dissenting, was authored by Justice Wiggins.? ?The opinion by Justice Wiggins is actually the controlling opinion.? ?See Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188, ?193 ?(1977) ?(?When ?a ?fragmented ?Court decides a case and no single rationale explaining the result enjoys the assent of five Justices, ?the holding ?of ?the ?Court ?may? be ?viewed ?as ?that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds . . . .??). Justice Wiggins concurred with the lead opinion?s ?conclusion ?that ?the? statute? was ?not facially?? unconstitutional,? ?but? ?agreed? ?with? ?the dissent that it was unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiff.?????? Justice? ?Wiggins? ?reformulated? ?the certified question to read: ?If not [facially unconstitutional], ?is ?Wash. ?Rev. ?Code ?section 49.60.040(11)’s exemption unconstitutional as applied to an employee of a religious non-profit organization whose job description and responsibilities? ?are? ?wholly?? unrelated? ?to? ?any religious practice or activity??? ?Justice Wiggins concluded that the exemption ?is constitutionally applied in cases in which the job description and responsibilities include duties that are religious or sectarian in nature.?? ?Otherwise, applying strict scrutiny, the exemption is unconstitutional as applied under Art. I., Section 12.
But ?the ?exemption ?is? reasonable only to the extent that it relates to employees? whose ?job responsibilities relate to the organization’s religious practices. When the exemption is applied to a person whose job qualifications and responsibilities are unrelated to religion, there is no reasonable ground for distinguishing between a religious organization and a purely secular organization. Therefore, I agree with the dissent that the exemption is invalid when applied to an employee like Ockletree, assuming? that ?there ?is ?no relationship between his duties and religion or religious practices. WELA wrote an amicus brief by Jeffrey Needle and Jesse Wing.
Ockletree v. Franciscan Health System,— Wn.2d— 317 P.3d 1009 (2/6/14).