2022 Lawsuit seeks ouster of Seattle Pacific trustees, interim president over anti-LGBTQ hiring policy

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Dive Temporary:

  • Six Seattle Pacific College trustees — together with the interim president — breached fiduciary obligation by putting their non secular beliefs above their duty to steward the Christian establishment after they preserved an anti-LGBTQ hiring coverage, alleges a lawsuit filed Monday.
  • A gaggle of 16 present and former college students, workers and alumni sued the trustees in King County Superior Court in Washington, alleging they fashioned a “rogue board” that rigged a Could vote with a view to to protect the coverage, which does not enable the establishment to make use of LGBTQ people who find themselves in relationships with somebody of the identical intercourse. Now college leaders, workers and enterprise companions are leaving, whereas the establishment faces a finances deficit and falling enrollment, the lawsuit says.
  • The plaintiffs search damages to be paid to the college and to have the defendants faraway from their positions. They’re additionally asking for a court-appointed receiver to supervise the number of substitute trustees and a brand new interim president.

Dive Perception:

Faculties with non secular affiliations have been transferring to the entrance of campus tradition wars. Monday’s lawsuit joins one other high-profile courtroom case that sits on the crossroads of antidiscrimination legal guidelines and non secular faculties’ insurance policies about sexuality.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Courtroom stated Yeshiva College doesn’t want to acknowledge an LGBTQ pupil membership whereas the establishment, traditionally affiliated with Orthodox Judaism, appeals a trial courtroom’s order saying it should enable the membership with a view to adjust to New York Metropolis’s human rights legislation. 

The same situation is at play in Washington, where the state supreme court has interpreted an antidiscrimination legislation as stopping religiously affiliated employers from withholding jobs from LGBTQ candidates in search of non-ministerial positions. The lawsuit towards Seattle Pacific references that case.

However the major situation within the Seattle Pacific lawsuit is fiduciary obligation — the concept that trustees should act to profit establishments they oversee. Plaintiffs say trustees affiliated with the Free Methodist Church breached their fiduciary obligation by pursuing the church’s pursuits earlier than these of the college as they sought to keep up the hiring coverage over a number of tumultuous years.

Seattle Pacific expects workers to stick to “life-style expectations” that embrace avoiding extramarital sexual exercise, the lawsuit says. The coverage is paired with an understanding that same-sex marriage is immoral, basically denying employment to LGBTQ individuals, it says.

The coverage has grow to be an more and more contentious situation in recent times. 

The college’s president, Daniel Martin, resigned at the beginning of April 2021, and trustees voted that very same month to keep up the coverage.

In response, greater than 500 individuals signed a letter saying they might not donate to the college, in keeping with the lawsuit. Seattle Pacific’s school senate additionally handed a vote of no confidence within the board.

The difficulty would come up once more for a vote, and the lawsuit says trustees maneuvered to make it tougher for the board to finish the employment coverage.

This 12 months, two Seattle Pacific board members offered a decision to the Free Methodist Church’s governing board underneath which the church will disaffiliate from related academic establishments that let “hiring of people residing a life-style inconsistent with the FMC E-book of Self-discipline’s teachings on sexual purity,” in keeping with the lawsuit.

The decision meant that any trustee votes on altering Seattle Pacific’s hiring coverage require a 75% supermajority to move. That supermajority requirement applies to efforts to disaffiliate the college from the church.

The church handed the decision, the lawsuit says. This Could, trustees voted to maintain the college’s hiring coverage.

The lawsuit accuses the trustees of utilizing the college as a weapon in “the sectarian battles of the Free Methodist Church.” One of many trustees it names as a defendant, Matthew Whitehead, is lead bishop for the church.

In June, Washington’s lawyer basic started an inquiry into the college’s employment practices. The college responded by suing the lawyer basic, alleging violations of its non secular freedom.

Had the board members not acted as they did, the lawyer basic wouldn’t have investigated the college, the lawsuit argues.

The college has since confronted protests. Students handed rainbow flags at graduation to interim president Pete Menjares — who’s a trustee and defendant within the lawsuit — and held a lengthy sit-in this spring.

Fallout from the turmoil has affected the college’s backside line, the lawsuit alleges. It says Seattle Pacific faces a roughly $10 million deficit this 12 months and plans to quickly reduce school headcount by greater than 20%.

“Over the previous 5 years, dozens of LGBTQ+ workers and job candidates have been terminated, pushed out, denied job presents or in any other case discriminated towards due to their sexual orientation, gender identification, or gender expression,” the lawsuit alleges. It additionally says seven trustees resigned from the 14-person board between March 2021 and the start of August this 12 months.

A Seattle Pacific spokesperson stated in a press release that the establishment is conscious of the lawsuit and “will reply in the end.” The spokesperson additionally pointed to a board announcement of its decision in Could, wherein its chair, Cedric Davis, stated the vote was consistent with the college’s mission, assertion of religion, and talent to stay “in communion with its founding denomination.”

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