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Scrivener v. Clark College

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

September 18, 2014

Kathryn Scrivener , Petitioner ,
v.
Clark College , Respondent

Argued March 20, 2014

Page 542

Appeal from Clark County Superior Court. 09-2-03120-1. Honorable Barbara D. Johnson.

Sue-Del McCulloch (of Law Offices of Sue-Del McCulloch LLC ), for petitioner.

Robert W. Ferguson, Attorney General, and Christopher Lanese, Assistant, for respondent.

Jeffrey L. Needle and Michael C. Subit on behalf of Washington Employment Lawyers Association, amicus curiae.

AUTHOR: Justice Charles K. Wiggins. WE CONCUR: Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, Justice Charles W. Johnson, Justice Susan Owens, Justice Debra L. Stephens, Justice Steven C. Gonzá lez, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Martin J. Appelwick, Justice Pro Tem., Ann Schindler, Justice Pro Tem.

OPINION

[181 Wn.2d 441] Charles K. Wiggins, J.

Page 543

¶ 1 The purpose of Washington's Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), chapter 49.60 RCW, is to eliminate and prevent discrimination in the workplace. RCW 49.60.010. The legislature passed the statute after finding that discrimination " threatens not only the rights and proper privileges of

Page 544

[Washington] inhabitants but menaces the institutions and foundation of a free democratic state." Id. Accordingly, the legislature directs us to construe the WLAD liberally. RCW 49.60.020.

¶ 2 Kathryn Scrivener sued Clark College, claiming that age was the reason it did not hire her for a tenure track teaching position. She was 55 years old at the time, squarely within the 40- to 70-year-old age range protected by the WLAD. The chosen hires were both under the age of 40. The trial court granted summary judgment in Clark College's favor, finding that Scrivener failed to prove that the college's stated reason for its decision was a pretext. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Scrivener v. Clark Coll., 176 Wn.App. 405, 407, 309 P.3d 613 (2013), review granted, 179 Wn.2d 1009, 316 P.3d 495 (2014).

¶ 3 Today, we clarify the standard plaintiffs must meet to overcome summary judgment. Employees may satisfy the pretext prong of the McDonnell Douglas framework by offering sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact either (1) that the employer's articulated [181 Wn.2d 442] reason for its action is pretextual or (2) that, although the employer's stated reason is legitimate, discrimination nevertheless was a substantial factor motivating the employer. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Applying this standard, we reverse summary judgment. Scrivener created a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether age was a substantial factor motivating Clark College's decision to hire younger candidates.

Facts

¶ 4 Scrivener began teaching as an adjunct instructor at Clark College in 1994. In 1999, Clark College hired her as a full-time, temporary English instructor. It has renewed her one-year contract every year since that time. In 2005, she applied for a tenure-track teaching position in the English Department.

¶ 5 Clark College initiated the search for an English instructor in November 2005. The college received 152 applications meeting the minimum qualifications, which were a master's degree in English, rhetoric and composition, or professional-technical writing, and teaching experience. From these applicants, the screening committee interviewed 13 candidates who gave teaching demonstrations. The screening committee then chose four candidates to refer to the president and vice president of instruction.

¶ 6 Scrivener was one of the four candidates the committee referred to the president and vice president. She possessed all of the qualifications listed as required and desirable on the recruitment announcement. President Branch and interim Vice President of Instruction Sylvia Thornburg interviewed Scrivener in May 2006 and informed her the same day that she was not chosen to fill either of the vacant English positions. ...


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