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SPU sued over anti-LGBTQ employment policies

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Photo by Josephine Baird
Photo by Josephine Baird

Seattle Pacific University (SPU) is being sued by a group of students, faculty, and staff over the school's anti-LGBTQ hiring policies. The suit was announced on September 12.

SPU, as an explicitly Christian school, bars LGBTQ people from employment. The school's board voted in May this year to keep the ban in effect, in spite of protests by its students and employees.

Photo by Josephine Baird  

This decision sparked even more student protests, with dozens of graduating seniors handing rainbow flags to SPU President Pete Menjares at the June graduation ceremony, rather than shaking his hand.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson also launched an investigation to determine if the SPU policy violates state civil rights or employment rights laws. In response, SPU sued Ferguson, charging him with violating its religious liberties.

Photo by Josephine Baird  

The new lawsuit involves 16 plaintiffs who say that the school's employment policies constitute a breach of its fiduciary responsibility and that they will harm SPU's reputation, worsen existing enrollment problems, and possibly jeopardize the school's future.

One of the plaintiffs is Chloe Guillot, who graduated from SPU earlier this year and now attends the university's seminary. She said she loves the university and its faculty, and feels that the school's board of directors is betraying the school community.

"One thing that's been hard to communicate to the public is how the actions of the board are so different from the rest of the university," Guillot said. "The lawsuit goes through the ways these board members have orchestrated a coup that contradicts everything the university stands for."

One of the faculty plaintiffs is Lynette Bikos, a professor of clinical psychology. She described the board's behavior as "nefarious" — jeopardizing SPU's future and undermining its long-standing commitment to diversity.

There has been a 25% reduction in faculty positions, she noted, and consultants have warned professors that SPU might have only a few more years of financial viability unless circumstances change.

The school's total enrollment last fall was 3,443, down from 4,175 in 2015.

Defendants in the suit are President Menjares; board chair Dean Kato; trustees Matthew Whitehead, Mark Mason, and Mike Quinn; and former trustee Michael McKee. Whitehead and Mason are leaders of the Free Methodist Church, the founding denomination of SPU, which does not recognize same-sex marriage.

The latest lawsuit is not the first to challenge SPU's hiring policies. In January 2021, Jeaux Rinedahl, an adjunct professor at SPU, filed suit, saying he had been denied a full-time tenured position because he is Gay. That lawsuit eventually was settled out of court.