A Christian college in Washington state has been sued by more than a dozen students and staff members over its LGBTQ hiring ban based on its religious beliefs.
The lawsuit against Seattle Pacific University (SPU) was filed in Washington State Superior Court on Monday. The legal filing requests that interim President Pete Menjares and other leaders supportive of the university’s policy be removed from their positions.
The 16 plaintiffs also request that an undetermined amount of money be paid to anyone harmed by the school’s LGBTQ hiring policy.
“This case is about six men who act as if they, and the educational institution they are charged to protect, are above the law,” the lawsuit reads. “While these men are powerful, they are not above the law… They must be held to account for their illegal and reckless conduct.”
The university was founded by the Free Methodist Church, a denomination whose religious convictions do not recognize same-sex marriage. Same-sex relationships are also prohibited in the university’s lifestyle expectations guide for full-time employees.
The case against the university follows a controversial lawsuit in 2021 by adjunct instructor Jéaux Rinehahl. He argued that he was denied a full-time, tenured role because he is gay.
The case was later settled out of court but highlighted concerns about SPU’s hiring policies. In May, a group of students led a walk-out that reportedly included hundreds of students leaving classrooms to demonstrate against the university’s policy and advocate for LGBTQ faculty and staff members.
In June, a group of students protested by handing out pride flags to the school’s interim president rather than shaking his hand when receiving diplomas.
Dean Kato, chair of the board of trustees and a defendant in the new lawsuit, affirmed the school’s policy after the June event.
“We acknowledge there is disagreement among people of faith on the topic of sexuality and identity,” Kato wrote to student activists, according to the Associated Press. “But after careful and prayerful deliberation, we believe these longstanding employee expectations are consistent with the University’s mission and Statement of Faith that reflect a traditional view on biblical marriage and sexuality.”
Following weeks of protests by students and alumni fighting SPU’s ban, the group said it would move forward with legal action. After a meeting with Kato and Menjares on July 1, the group wrote on Instagram, “The board has elected to refuse our demands, meaning we will be moving forward with litigation. This is not a decision that we take lightly, but it is a decision we believe will protect the future of our university.”
The protesters also launched a GoFundMe to raise funds for legal costs. The effort has raised more than $51,000 toward its cause.
The group’s description claims it has “taken almost every measure they can to hold the Board accountable, with no success in changing SPU’s discriminatory policies.”