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Seattle Pacific University leaders are sued for anti-LGBTQ hiring practices

Seattle Pacific University students and staff have sued leaders of the board of trustees for refusing to put an end to the university's discriminatory hiring practices.
Chris Grygiel
/
AP
Seattle Pacific University students and staff have sued leaders of the board of trustees for refusing to put an end to the university's discriminatory hiring practices.

Students and staff at Seattle Pacific University are taking members of school's board of trustees to court for refusing to hire individuals in same-sex relationships.

The lawsuit alleges that the six defendants, members of the university's board of trustees, use their position of power to "advance the interests of a religious denomination at the expense of the students, alumni, staff, and faculty of the university." It goes on to say that the hiring practices at SPU, a private Christian university, prohibit individuals in same-sex relationships from full-time employment.

This filing comes after Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced in late July that his office was investigating potential discrimination charges. The university filed suit against the attorney general's office after learning about the probe.

In a news release, Ferguson said SPU admits that it refuses to hire gay faculty, despite protests from students, staff and community members.

"Numerous Seattle Pacific University students, faculty, and others reached out to my office to file complaints or otherwise express deep concern that the University administration's policies illegally violate Washingtonians' civil rights," Ferguson said in the release.

Seattle Pacific University Interim President Pete Menjares, one of the six leaders being sued, said in a July 28 statement that the university was asking a federal court to defend its right to make hiring decisions based on religion.

The lawsuit argues that though the university may be faith-based, its primary function is education. Additionally, the lawsuit says that SPU is incorporated under the Washington Nonprofit Corporation Act and doesn't meet the definition of a religious corporation.

The lawsuit also refers to another case that went to the Supreme Court of Washington, Woods v. Seattle's Union Gospel Mission, which ruled that the state's religious exemption laws don't protect nonprofit employment practices unless the employees are ministers. The U.S Supreme Court denied the mission a request for a writ of certiorari, stating that a religious exemption would become a "license to discriminate."

Students protested last May after the board voted to retain the controversial hiring practices, despite support for change by many faculty, staff and students, the Seattle Times reported. And at graduation, KIRO-7 reported, students handed Pride flags to Menjares instead of shaking his hand.

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Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.