Hale v. Wellpinit School Dist. No. 49, No. 80771-0.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtChambers
Citation165 Wn.2d 494,198 P.3d 1021
PartiesJohn L. HALE and Robbin Hale, husband and wife, Petitioners, v. WELLPINIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 49, a municipal corporation, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 80771-0.
Decision Date15 January 2009
198 P.3d 1021
165 Wn.2d 494
John L. HALE and Robbin Hale, husband and wife, Petitioners,
v.
WELLPINIT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 49, a municipal corporation, Respondent.
No. 80771-0.
Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc.
Argued October 21, 2008.
Decided January 15, 2009.

[198 P.3d 1022]

Paul James Burns, Attorney at Law, Spokane, WA, for Petitioners.

Michael Early McFarland Jr., Patrick Mark Risken, Attorney at Law, Spokane, WA, for Respondent.

Sean M. Phelan, Frank Freed Subit & Thomas, LLP, Seattle, WA, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington Employment Lawyers Association.

Michael Craig Subit, Beth A. Bloom, Sean M. Phelan, Frank Freed Subit & Thomas LLP, Seattle, WA, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Senators Adam Kline et al.

Elizabeth Christina Beusch, Attorney General's Office, Government Compliance Division, Olympia, WA, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Human Rights Commission.

CHAMBERS, J.


¶ 1 Until 2007, the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), chapter 49.60 RCW, contained no definition of the term "disability." In 2006, this court found that the meaning of "disability" as used in the WLAD was consistent with the definition found in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12209(ADA). McClarty v. Totem Elec., 157 Wash.2d 214, 137 P.3d 844 (2006). In reaction,

198 P.3d 1023

the legislature rejected the McClarty definition and amended the WLAD to provide a new statutory definition of "disability." Being careful not to reverse McClarty, the legislature explicitly declared the new statutory definition applied retroactively to causes of action occurring the day before the McClarty opinion was filed and to causes of action occurring on or after the effective date of the amendment. We are asked to determine whether this retroactive amendment to a statute previously construed by this court violates separation of powers. We hold that under the facts of this case, it does not. We reverse the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2 John Hale was hired by the Wellpinit School District (Wellpinit) in February 2002 to provide student support services at Wellpinit High School. In May 2002, Hale was transferred to Fort Simcoe, a satellite school being opened by Wellpinit in White Swan, Washington. Hale provided classroom support and helped with any software problems that arose at Fort Simcoe.

¶ 3 During his time with Wellpinit, Hale came to believe that some of his supervisors were aggravating a medical condition. From February 2002 through May 2002, Hale claims he was subject to abusive conduct from his supervisor, Magne Kristiansen, including being criticized for problems with classroom computers and being made to feel "ignorant or stupid." Clerk's Papers at 55-60. After his move to Fort Simcoe, Hale continued to have problems with Kristiansen and another supervisor, Principal Phyllis Magden. These issues allegedly exacerbated Hale's previously diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder.

¶ 4 On August 25, 2002, Hale sent a letter to Wellpinit Superintendent Reid Riedlinger informing Riedlinger that he was having problems with his supervisor and that those problems were having an adverse effect on his health. On January 3, 2003, Hale sent a letter to the Wellpinit School Board (Board) concerning Riedlinger's failure to respond to the previous letter and outlining other issues he was concerned about at Fort Simcoe. Included with the letter to the Board was a December 20, 2002, letter written by Hale's physician, Dr. Robert Wigert, explaining that Hale suffered from an anxiety disorder and depression. Feeling that the work environment was exacerbating his condition and that he was receiving no help in trying to improve the situation, Hale left his position with Wellpinit on March 20, 2003.

¶ 5 In 2006, Hale filed suit in Stevens County Superior Court against his former employer, Wellpinit, alleging negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, and disability discrimination under the WLAD. The WLAD claim alleged that Hale was disabled and that Wellpinit had failed to accommodate his disability by failing to intervene and stop the abusive conduct Hale felt was exacerbating his anxiety disorder. Wellpinit filed a motion for partial summary judgment alleging that Hale had failed to establish that he was disabled under the WLAD. On March 30, 2007, the trial judge granted Wellpinit's motion for partial summary judgment on the WLAD claim, finding that there was no issue of material fact regarding whether Hale was disabled as that term is defined under McClarty.

¶ 6 In April 2007, following the dismissal of Hale's accommodation claim, the legislature passed Substitute Senate Bill 5340, 60th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Wash.2007) (S.S.B.), which statutorily defined "disability" under the WLAD. The new legislative act explicitly declared that the definition applied retroactively. Hale filed a motion for reconsideration arguing that in light of the legislature's amendment of the WLAD and its retroactive effect, partial summary judgment should have been denied because his condition qualified as a disability under the new definition. The trial judge, relying largely on In re Personal Restraint of Stewart, 115 Wash. App. 319, 75 P.3d 521 (2003), denied the motion for reconsideration finding that S.S.B. 5340 violated the separation of powers doctrine by attempting to reverse this court's interpretation of the WLAD in McClarty. The superior court certified that the separation of powers issue involved a significant question of law under the constitution of the state of Washington and that immediate review

198 P.3d 1024

would materially advance the termination of litigation. We agreed and accepted review under RAP 2.3(b).

LEGISLATIVE BACKGROUND

¶ 7 Prior to the legislature's most recent amendment, the WLAD itself contained no definition of the term disability. However, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) had earlier promulgated a definition, which stated in part that "a person will be considered to be disabled by a sensory, mental, or physical condition if he or she is discriminated against because of the condition and the condition is abnormal." WAC 162-22-020(2). In 2000, we reviewed the HRC definition and held that it was circular and "unworkable when an employee's claim is based upon an accommodation theory." Pulcino v. Fed. Express Corp., 141 Wash.2d 629, 641, 9 P.3d 787 (2000). Instead we found that an accommodation claimant could satisfy the "`handicap'[1] element of his or her claim by proving that (1) he or she has/had a sensory, mental, or physical abnormality and (2) such abnormality has/had a substantially limiting effect upon the individual's ability to perform his or her job." Id. The HRC definition remained in force for any claims under the WLAD not based on an accommodation theory.

¶ 8 A closely divided court changed the definition of "disability" in 2006 in McClarty. There we rejected both the HRC definition and the definition we had adopted six years earlier in Pulcino in favor of the definition used by Congress in the ADA. McClarty, 157 Wash.2d at 228, 137 P.3d 844. Specifically, we found that the definition of "disability" employed by the ADA was better supported by the plain language of the WLAD's text and the legislature's intent. Id. Instead of requiring plaintiffs to prove they had an abnormality that substantially limited their ability to perform their job, we construed the WLAD as requiring that a plaintiff show he had "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his major life activities." Id. The McClarty definition provided a single definition of "disability" to be applied throughout the WLAD.2 Id.

¶ 9 The legislature responded to our decision in McClarty by enacting S.S.B. 5340 and statutorily defining the term "disability." The legislature specifically rejected the definition of "disability" adopted in McClarty stating:

The legislature finds that the supreme court, in its opinion in McClarty v. Totem Electric, 157 Wash.2d 214, 137 P.3d 844 (2006), failed to recognize that the Law Against Discrimination affords to state residents protections that are wholly independent of those afforded by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and that the law against discrimination has provided such protections for many years prior to passage of the federal act.

LAWS OF 2007, ch. 317, § 1. The legislature provided that:

(a) "Disability" means the presence of a sensory, mental, or physical impairment that:

(i) Is medically cognizable or diagnosable; or

(ii) Exists as a record or history; or

(iii) Is perceived to exist whether or not it exists in fact.

Id. § 2(25) (codified as RCW 49.60.040(25)(a)). In addressing "impairment" as it relates to a reasonable accommodation claim under the WLAD the statute now states:

(d) Only for the purposes of qualifying for reasonable accommodation in employment, an impairment must be known or shown through an interactive process to exist in fact and:

(i) The impairment must have a substantially limiting effect upon the individual's

198 P.3d 1025

ability to perform his or her job, the individual's ability to apply or be considered for a job, or the individual's access to equal benefits, privileges, or terms or conditions of employment.

RCW 49.60.040(25)(d)(i). The legislature also explicitly applied the new definition retroactively stating, "[t]his act is remedial and retroactive, and applies to all causes of action occurring before July 6, 2006, and to all causes of action occurring on or after the effective date of this act." Laws of 2007, ch. 317, § 3. McClarty was published on July 6, 2006. The effect of this provision was to carefully carve out a window of time during which claims would still be controlled by the definition of "disability" we announced in McClarty. The new definition, among other things, eliminated the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
99 practice notes
  • State v. Rice, No. 85893–4.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • June 28, 2012
    ...” and a “ ‘multiplicity of checks and balances' ” must be maintained. Hale v. Wellpinit Sch. Dist. No. 49, 165 Wash.2d 494, 503–04, 198 P.3d 1021 (2009) (emphasis added) (quoting Carrick v. Locke, 125 Wash.2d 129, 135, 882 P.2d 173 (1994) and State v. Evans, 154 Wash.2d 438, 445, 114 P.3d 6......
  • Aji P. v. State, No. 80007-8-I
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • February 8, 2021
    ...to interfere with the exercise of another's functions [is] very limited." Hale v. Wellpinit Sch. Dist. No. 49, 165 Wash.2d 494, 504, 198 P.3d 1021 (2009). "The judicial branch violates the 16 Wash.App.2d 188 doctrine when it assumes ‘tasks that are more properly accomplished by [other] bran......
  • State v. Arlene's Flowers, Inc., NO. 91615-2
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • February 16, 2017
    ...de novo" (citing State v. Wentz, 149 Wash.2d 342, 346, 68 P.3d 282 (2003) )); Hale v. Wellpinit Sch. Dist. No. 49, 165 Wash.2d 494, 503, 198 P.3d 1021 (2009) (appellate court "review[s] all constitutional challenges de novo" (citing State v. Jones, 159 Wash.2d 231, 237, 149 P.3d 636 (2006) ......
  • State v. Yishmael, No. 96775-0
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • February 6, 2020
    ...system divides power into many different hands in order to protect liberty. Hale v. Wellpinit Sch. Dist. No. 49 , 165 Wash.2d 494, 504, 198 P.3d 1021 (2009). Under our separation of powers system, each branch of government has its own appropriate sphere of activity and inviolate fundamental......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
99 cases
  • State v. Rice, No. 85893–4.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • June 28, 2012
    ...” and a “ ‘multiplicity of checks and balances' ” must be maintained. Hale v. Wellpinit Sch. Dist. No. 49, 165 Wash.2d 494, 503–04, 198 P.3d 1021 (2009) (emphasis added) (quoting Carrick v. Locke, 125 Wash.2d 129, 135, 882 P.2d 173 (1994) and State v. Evans, 154 Wash.2d 438, 445, 114 P.3d 6......
  • Aji P. v. State, No. 80007-8-I
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • February 8, 2021
    ...to interfere with the exercise of another's functions [is] very limited." Hale v. Wellpinit Sch. Dist. No. 49, 165 Wash.2d 494, 504, 198 P.3d 1021 (2009). "The judicial branch violates the 16 Wash.App.2d 188 doctrine when it assumes ‘tasks that are more properly accomplished by [other] bran......
  • State v. Arlene's Flowers, Inc., NO. 91615-2
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • February 16, 2017
    ...de novo" (citing State v. Wentz, 149 Wash.2d 342, 346, 68 P.3d 282 (2003) )); Hale v. Wellpinit Sch. Dist. No. 49, 165 Wash.2d 494, 503, 198 P.3d 1021 (2009) (appellate court "review[s] all constitutional challenges de novo" (citing State v. Jones, 159 Wash.2d 231, 237, 149 P.3d 636 (2006) ......
  • State v. Yishmael, No. 96775-0
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • February 6, 2020
    ...system divides power into many different hands in order to protect liberty. Hale v. Wellpinit Sch. Dist. No. 49 , 165 Wash.2d 494, 504, 198 P.3d 1021 (2009). Under our separation of powers system, each branch of government has its own appropriate sphere of activity and inviolate fundamental......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT