By Melanie Nguyen and Kristin Michaud
In celebration of Pride Month 2023, The Stritmatter Firm is highlighting key legislation and cases in Washington involving LGBTQ+ issues. This week, we are focusing on the 2002 Washington case involving Mary Jo Davis and her ground-breaking discrimination case against her hospital employer for terminating her because of her sexual orientation.
In 1993, Mary Jo Davis was hired as a sonographer by Pullman Memorial Hospital in Pullman, Washington. The radiologist in charge of the department, Dr. Charles Guess, warned Ms. Davis’ eventual supervisor not to hire her because her ‘homosexuality’ might cause trouble. Ms. Davis was hired, but over the course of the next nine years, was subjected to repeated insults, verbal abuse, and discrimination by Dr. Guess. He often used expletives, such as “f_cking dyke,” “f_cking faggot,” “queer,” openly questioned her professional skills, and made jokes to hospital staff at Ms. Davis’ expense.
In late 1994, after Ms. Davis (and her supervisor) made a complaint to hospital administration about Dr. Guess’ behavior toward her, Dr. Guess retaliated by reducing her work hours. Although his discriminatory conduct was noted by hospital administrators, no formal disciplinary action was taken. Ms. Davis was eventually fired.
MARY JO DAVIS V. GUESS
In 1996, Ms. Davis filed suit in Whitman County Superior Court against Dr. Guess and the hospital. Each defendant moved for summary judgment. The Court eventually dismissed all claims against Dr. Guess, and only left claims against the hospital relating to the wrongful discharge in breach of promise and violation of due process. Ms. Davis appealed.
On July 18, 2002, the Washington State Court of Appeals (Div. 3) unanimously overturned the lower court’s decision by affirming that firing public employees because of their sexual orientation violated the 14th Amendment (Equal Protection Clause) of the U.S. Constitution. The case was reversed and remanded for trial against the hospital and Dr. Guess. A settlement between the parties was reached prior to trial.
This decision was the first in the nation to protect LGBTQ+ government employees from anti-gay discrimination on the job, and to provide precedent on which to expand such protections. While the discriminatory conduct in this case was vulgar and obvious, our courts have found discrimination on more subtle, implicit bias interactions.
WASHINGTON STATE RESOURCES
If you have any concerns about your workplace, here are resources about your rights and filing a discrimination claim:
- Washington State Labor & Industries – Workplace Complaints
- Filing a Discrimination Claim – Washington
- Washington State Workers’ Rights Manual – Your Right to Be Free of Discrimination