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

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Dive Temporary:

  • Six Seattle Pacific College trustees — together with the interim president — breached fiduciary obligation by putting their spiritual beliefs above their accountability to steward the Christian establishment after they preserved an anti-LGBTQ hiring coverage, alleges a lawsuit filed Monday.
  • A bunch of 16 present and former college students, workers and alumni sued the trustees in King County Superior Courtroom in Washington, alleging they fashioned a “rogue board” that rigged a Might vote with a view to to protect the coverage, which does not permit 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 funds 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 collection of substitute trustees and a brand new interim president.

Dive Perception:

Schools with spiritual affiliations have been transferring to the entrance of campus tradition wars. Monday’s lawsuit joins one other high-profile court docket case that sits on the crossroads of antidiscrimination legal guidelines and spiritual schools’ 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 court docket’s order saying it should permit the membership with a view to adjust to New York Metropolis’s human rights regulation. 

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An analogous problem is at play in Washington, the place the state supreme court docket has interpreted an antidiscrimination regulation 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 problem within the Seattle Pacific lawsuit is fiduciary obligation — the concept that trustees should act to learn 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 take care of the hiring coverage over a number of tumultuous years.

Seattle Pacific expects workers to stick to “life-style expectations” that embody 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 folks, it says.

The coverage has develop into an more and more contentious problem lately. 

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

In response, greater than 500 folks signed a letter saying they might not donate to the college, based on the lawsuit. Seattle Pacific’s college 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 more durable for the board to finish the employment coverage.

This yr, 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 Ebook of Self-discipline’s teachings on sexual purity,” based on the lawsuit.

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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 Might, 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 normal started an inquiry into the college’s employment practices. The college responded by suing the lawyer normal, alleging violations of its spiritual freedom.

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

The college has since confronted protests. College students handed rainbow flags at commencement to interim president Pete Menjares — who’s a trustee and defendant within the lawsuit — and held a prolonged 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 yr and plans to quickly reduce college headcount by greater than 20%.

“Over the previous 5 years, dozens of LGBTQ+ workers and job candidates have been terminated, pushed out, denied job provides 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 yr.

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

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