- Six Seattle Pacific College trustees — together with the interim president — breached fiduciary responsibility 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, staff and alumni sued the trustees in King County Superior Courtroom in Washington, alleging they shaped a “rogue board” that rigged a Might vote to be able 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, staff and enterprise companions are leaving, whereas the establishment faces a price range 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 choice of alternative trustees and a brand new interim president.
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 non secular faculties’ insurance policies about sexuality.
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Courtroom mentioned 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 enable the membership to be able to adjust to New York Metropolis’s human rights legislation.
An identical problem is at play in Washington, the place the state supreme court docket has interpreted an antidiscrimination legislation as stopping religiously affiliated employers from withholding jobs from LGBTQ candidates in search of non-ministerial positions. The lawsuit in opposition to Seattle Pacific references that case.
However the major problem within the Seattle Pacific lawsuit is fiduciary responsibility — the concept trustees should act to profit establishments they oversee. Plaintiffs say trustees affiliated with the Free Methodist Church breached their fiduciary responsibility 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 staff to stick to “way of life expectations” that embody avoiding extramarital sexual exercise, the lawsuit says. The coverage is paired with an understanding that same-sex marriage is immoral, primarily denying employment to LGBTQ individuals, it says.
The coverage has grow to be an more and more contentious problem lately.
The college’s president, Daniel Martin, resigned originally of April 2021, and trustees voted that very same month to take care of the coverage.
In response, greater than 500 individuals signed a letter saying they’d not donate to the college, in response to 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 more durable for the board to finish the employment coverage.
This 12 months, two Seattle Pacific board members introduced a decision to the Free Methodist Church’s governing board underneath which the church will disaffiliate from related academic establishments that allow “hiring of people residing a way of life inconsistent with the FMC Guide of Self-discipline’s teachings on sexual purity,” in response to the lawsuit.
The decision meant that any trustee votes on altering Seattle Pacific’s hiring coverage require a 75% supermajority to go. 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 legal professional normal started an inquiry into the college’s employment practices. The college responded by suing the legal professional normal, alleging violations of its spiritual freedom.
Had the board members not acted as they did, the legal professional 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 12 months and plans to quickly reduce school headcount by greater than 20%.
“Over the previous 5 years, dozens of LGBTQ+ staff and job candidates have been terminated, pushed out, denied job provides or in any other case discriminated in opposition to 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 mentioned in an announcement that the establishment is conscious of the lawsuit and “will reply sooner or later.” The spokesperson additionally pointed to a board announcement of its choice in Might, during which its chair, Cedric Davis, mentioned the vote was in step with the college’s mission, assertion of religion, and talent to stay “in communion with its founding denomination.”