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Wash. High Court: Sea-Tac Airport Workers Unknowingly Fed Pork Can Sue Over Lunch

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Washington employers must “reasonably” accommodate the religious practices of their employees, according to a ruling issued by the Washington Supreme Court Thursday.

The case involves four men employed by a company that makes meals for airline passengers at Sea-Tac Airport.

Because the employees aren’t allowed to bring their own lunches for security reasons, the company provides lunch. But the meals didn’t conform to their religious-based dietary restrictions, the plaintiffs alleged in their suit. 

While there are ostensibly vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, the workers said the vegetarian options include animal byproducts. They further alleged the company switched from turkey meatballs to beef-and-pork meatballs without telling them.

A lower court held that Washington's anti-discrimination law doesn't allow people to sue when private employers fail to provide reasonable accommodations for the religious practices of their workers.

In a 5-4 decision Thursday, the high court disagreed, and said that duty is implied in the law. 

Seth Rosenberg, an attorney representing the men who brought the suit, said the ruling should spark a conversation between employers and their employees about religious accommodations.

“Now, that dialogue needs to occur, and obviously we think that’s incredibly important given how diverse Seattle is and Washington state as a whole [is],” Rosenberg said.

The dissenting justices said there’s no evidence the intent of the anti-discrimination law was to create a religious protection in the workplace.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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