Scrivener v. Clark College, 334 P.3d 541 (2014) (view WELA’s brief)

The plaintiff alleged that Clark College refused to hire her based on her age, 54, and hired less qualified younger applicants for tenure-track positions in the college’s English department. The plaintiff was selected from a pool of 156 applicants as one of four finalists for two open positions. The college’s president, who was involved in the final decision to hire the younger (under 40) applicants instead of the plaintiff, said in his “State of the College” address that the institution needed to hire “younger talent.” At the time, 87 percent of tenure-track faculty were over 40 years old. That academic year, the college filled 13 tenure-track positions, only 4 of which it filled with candidates older than 40.

Scrivener filed suit and the trial court granted summary judgment for the college. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals applied the burden shifting framework adopted from McDonnell Douglas, and ruled that the “substantial factor” standard for WLAD claims, which applies at trial, does not apply at summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed based on finding that Plaintiff could not prove as a matter of law that Defendant’s stated reason for the hiring decisions was a pretext. The Court of Appeals dismissed the college president’s statement about hiring “younger talent” as “a ‘stray comment,’ a remark that does not give rise to an inference of discriminatory intent ? and cannot demonstrate pretext.”

The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a plaintiff can prove pretext by showing that the employer was substantially motivated by discrimination even if the employer’s articulated reason is legitimate and (2) the stray remarks doctrine does not apply under Washington law. The court makes clear that a plaintiff need not disprove each of the employer’s articulated reasons to defeat summary judgment. Jeffrey Needle and Michael Subit wrote the amicus brief on behalf of WELA.

View Court’s Opinion: Scrivener v. Clark College