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Law School Case Brief

Miguel v. Guess - 112 Wash. App. 536, 51 P.3d 89 (2002)


To establish a cause of action under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, a claimant must show: (1) the defendant violated a federal constitutional or statutory right; and (2) the defendant acted under color of state law


Mary Jo Davis sued Pullman Hospital District No. 1-A (Hospital) and Charles Guess, M.D., after she was dismissed from her position in the Hospital's radiology department. Davis believed that she was fired because of her sexual orientation. In her lawsuit, she contended that public employment discrimination based solely on sexual orientation was irrational and actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. She further contended that the actions of the hospital violated Washington public policy. Her claims were dismissed on summary judgment. On appeal, Davis argued that the lower court erred in dismissing her complaint.


Is public employment discrimination based solely on sexual orientation irrational and actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983?




The Court noted that in order to establish the liability of an individual defendant under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, an employee must show both that a public employee deprived her of a protected right and that he caused the deprivation while acting under color of state law. Normally, the second element was demonstrated by showing that a public employee abused the position given to him or her by the state while acting in an official capacity. According to the Court, a state actor would violate a homosexual employee's right of equal protection when it treats that person differently than it treats heterosexual employees, based solely upon the employee's sexual orientation. The alleged violation of the right of equal protection is actionable under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983. However, in the case at bar, the Court held that the employee raised material issues of fact with respect to whether the hospital and the doctor were state actors for the purposes of § 1983; as such, the Court reversed the trial court’s dismissal and remanded the case in order to determine whether or not the defendants were state actors. The Court, however, dismissed the employee’s claim based upon public policy. According to the Court, the employee’s discharge did not violate a clear mandate of Washington public policy.

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