The Capitol Record

State Supreme Court considers religion in workplace case

Washington Supreme Court

Should employers in Washington be required to accommodate the religious practices of their employees?

That’s the question before the Washington Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a case brought by four employees of Gate Gourmet, a company that prepares meals for airline passengers.

Because of security restrictions, the employees are not allowed to bring their own lunch or leave the site for food. Gate Gourmet provided a meal for its workers that included one meat option and one vegetarian choice.

The employees — including a Hindu, Muslim and Orthodox Christian — allege the company sometimes put meat products in the vegetarian dish or served pork in the meat dish, even after an employee told Gate Gourmet that eating pork was against his religious beliefs.

Aaron Rocke, the attorney for the workers, argued that employers in Washington have a “duty to accommodate the creeds of their employees” under the state’s discrimination law.

He said Gate Gourmet prepares meals to fit the dietary preferences of airline passengers — including halal, vegetarian and gluten-free options. But the company doesn’t afford that same respect to its workers, Rocke said.

“They make their employees eat food that the employees believe makes them unclean, impure or they find morally objectionable. The facts in this case allege that they have tricked them into eating such food,” Rocke said.

Gate Gourmet’s lawyer Shane Sagheb argued that the state’s current discrimination law does not require employers to make religious accommodations. To change the law, that would require action by the state Legislature or by the state Human Rights Commission, he said.

The Washington State Law Against Discrimination makes it illegal to hire or fire someone because of their creed, age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race or disability.

Sagheb said Gate Gourmet did not intend to harm the workers.  “I do not think it amounts to battery under Washington law,” he said.

Watch the oral arguments below. The court will issue a decision at a later date.

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