Religious university is being ‘put down’ by anti-LGBTQ hiring policy, lawsuit says

After months of protesting anti-LGBTQ salary policies, 16 students, faculty and staff at a small Christian university sued its board on Monday. The plaintiffs say the campus is “collapsing.”

The lawsuit accuses Seattle Pacific University’s interim president and five current and former trustees of maintaining a policy that prohibits the hiring of people in same-sex relationships for full-time positions, a policy that has drawn much criticism on campus. The politics The claim in question states that employees should refrain from “cohabitation, extramarital sexual relations and same-sex sexual relations”.

According to the lawsuit, the trustees’ decision threatens to damage the university’s reputation and future enrollment, which violates their “fiduciary duties.” Trustees, the suit claims“chose this path to defend a discriminatory recruitment policy that undermined the heart and soul of the SPU and has torn it apart.”

The expert spoke Chronicle In July, when the students announced their intention to sue, the legal argument is hard to prove.

The complaint describes trustees who support anti-LGBTQ policies as a “rogue board.” After a vote in May to maintain the policy, the board chairman resigned; Two other trustees stepped aside just before the vote.

The new lawsuit, filed in Washington state Supreme Court, is asking for the six defendants to be removed from their positions on the board and to pay damages to anyone harmed by the policy. The six defendants include interim university president Pete Menjares; chairman of the board, Dean Kato; trustees Matthew Whitehead, Mark Mason and Mike Quinn and former trustee Michael McKee.

When you get to the point of protesting for years, you have to think, what else can we do?

Whitehead and Mason are members of the Board of Trustees of the Free Methodist Church. The church founded by Seattle Pacific in 1891 does not support same-sex marriage.

SPU spokesperson referred Chronicle board to May decision to adhere to the recruitment policy and said that “Seattle Pacific University is aware of the lawsuit and will respond in due course.”

In the past, college trustees have confirmed that SPU’s religious beliefs allow them to follow the policy. University recently sued Washington state attorney general for alleged religious discrimination after trying to investigate the institution’s hiring practices.

“The fact that this policy exists and is constantly being asserted is damaging to the campus,” said Chloe Guillot, 22, a recent graduate and one of the plaintiffs.

Throughout June, Guillot and other students staged sit-ins outside the president’s office to protest the recruitment policy, as they had done in the past. reported Chronicle. The depositions were partly in response to a different lawsuit. In January 2021, Assistant Professor of Nursing Jéaux Rinedahl sued Seattle Pacific for refusing to hire her as a professor based on her sexuality.

In May of this year, the board released position said the matter had been settled out of court and the hiring policy would remain unchanged.

Student activists continued to gather in front of the president’s office until July, but nothing happened.

Students and others then approached the idea of ​​a lawsuit.

“We’ve been protesting for LGBTQ rights at SPU for years. This is nothing new for us,” Guillot said. “When you get to the point where you’re protesting for years, you have to think, what else can we do?”

Guillot, who now attends Pacific Seminary in Seattle, and other protesters contacted lawyers and found more plaintiffs to build their case.

One of them is Professor Lynette Bikos of the Department of Clinical Psychology, who has taught at the university for 18 years. He said he was not informed of the anti-LGBTQ policy when he was hired.

“I feel like I’ve been part of a system that has caused harm, and I want to be part of a system that makes things right,” Bikos said.

Guillot said he started feeling sick to his stomach on Monday, the day the lawsuit was announced. But when he walked into the Seattle Pacific campus, he said students stopped to congratulate him and thank him for the lawsuit.

Bikos said there was frivolity and fun on campus on Monday. Students decorated the campus center with rainbow colored ties and balloons. In addition to tables from campus support clubs and LGBTQ resources, Costco offered a cake that said “Happy Lawsuit Day” and another cake that proclaimed “It’s a Boy!” — except “Boy!” crossed out and replaced with “Sue!”

“Knowing that support on campus definitely helped my gut,” Guillot said. “It reminded me that this is who we’re fighting for.”

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