The Washington State Court of Appeals in favor of the Washington State Human Rights Commission in a sexual harassment claim in housing.  It was a case of first impression and the court ruled in our favor on all issues.  Although federal law recognizes the theory of sex harassment in a fair housing claim, Washington courts had never addressed the issue under state law.  The court ruled that sexual harassment in a real estate transaction is discrimination in the terms, conditions and privileges by preventing equal use and enjoyment of the dwelling under WLAD.

Sharon Ortiz, Executive Director
Washington State Human Rights Commission

 

APPEALS COURT FINDS IN FAVOR OF HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

Sexual harassment actionable in real estate discrimination cases

The Washington State Court of Appeals, Division II, found in favor of the Washington State Human Rights Commission on all issues in the case of Tafoya v. State of Washington Human Rights Commission.  On October 15, 2013, the three judge panel determined a case of first impression; whether sexual harassment in a real estate transaction constitutes an unfair practice under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD).    The Court held, "...sexual harassment is an actionable claim under the WLAD when sexual harassment interferes with the terms, conditions, and privileges of a rental agreement by preventing the use and enjoyment of property."

The case originated when Mary Gossard made a complaint of discrimination to the Commission that she was being sexually harassed by her landlord.  She claimed that her landlord, David Tafoya, repeatedly made sexually suggestive comments to her and touched her in an inappropriate and unwelcome manner, and then when Gossard complained to his wife and co-landlord, Faris Tafoya, her claims were ignored and they accused her of making it up.  After an investigation, the Commission found reasonable cause to believe that discrimination had occurred, and the Attorney General's Office took the case to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.  The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found for the Commission.  The Tafoyas then appealed that decision in Superior Court which upheld the original decision.  Next the Tafoyas appealed the second decision which resulted in yesterday's ruling favorable to the Commission and Gossard. 

Commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz stated, "I am very happy about this legal victory.  It is a significant development in state civil rights law; it sets a precedent in our state.  While the sexual harassment theory has been recognized under federal law, no Washington court had ever addressed the issue of whether a similar theory existed under state law.  I would like to thank Investigator Laurie Rasmussen for her work on the original investigation and the Assistant Attorneys General who litigated on our behalf. 

The Washington State Human Rights Commission is a state agency that enforces the Washington Law Against Discrimination.  It is a violation of Washington law for a person to be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation/gender identity, age, disability, use of a dog guide or trained service animal due to a disability, familial status, marital status, honorably discharged veteran and military status, or status as a breastfeeding mother. If an individual believes that he or she has been discriminated because of a protected basis, he or she can file a complaint with the Commission by going to the Commission's website at www.hum.wa.gov or calling 800-233-3247. 

October 17, 2013