Washington Law Review


Michael Spiro


Washington's Law Against Discrimination is a broad remedial statute, granting both a general civil right to be free from discrimination and prohibiting certain specific "unfair practices." Although no person may be prevented from bringing a cause of action to enforce his or her civil rights, the remedies available for unfair practices are more limited. The Washington State Human Rights Commission ("Commission") recognized this statutory distinction, interpreting the Law Against Discrimination ("Act") to grant independent contractors the right to bring a cause of action for violations of their civil rights and to confine the statute's small employer exemption to its own administrative jurisdiction. Generally, Washington courts accord substantial deference to the Commission's statutory constructions. However, in Griffin v. Eller, the Washington Supreme Court inexplicably ignored established rules of judicial deference and invalidated the Commission's interpretation of the small employer exemption, thus preventing all persons who work for small employers from enforcing their civil rights. In contrast, the court in Marquis v. City of Spokane carefully followed these rules in correctly deferring to the Commission's interpretation granting independent contractors the right to sue. This Note criticizes the Griffin decision both for compromising the authority of a necessary and vital administrative agency and for frustrating the purpose of the statute. Moreover, this Note argues that courts should defer to the Human Rights Commission's construction of the Act when that construction is reasonably consistent with legislative intent and is necessary for furthering the purposes of the statute.

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