A Washington State Superior Court judge threw out most of the claims against the Seattle Pacific University Board of Trustees brought by students and faculty who argued that the board breached its fiduciary duty by maintaining a policy that bars hiring openly gay faculty and staff members at the Free Methodist Church–affiliated college, Religion News Service reported.
The judge found that the plaintiffs have no standing to sue the board for upholding the hiring policy, which has been the subject of protests, lawsuits and an investigation by Washington State’s attorney general. However, Judge Andrea Darvas ruled last week that a fraud claim against interim president Pete Menjares and trustee Matthew Whitehead could proceed.
SPU had previously asked for the fraud claim to be dismissed alongside other charges.
In early 2022, the SPU board allowed a working group to explore policy changes, and it recommended changes that would allow SPU to revise its policy and remain in good standing with the Free Methodist Church. Trustees were then accused of breaking a confidentiality agreement by leaking the recommendation to the Free Methodist Church. The church proceeded to change its policies, adding a rule to bar member institutions from hiring individuals who violate denominational teachings on “sexual purity.” That rule change eliminated the opportunity for a compromise at SPU and has led to ongoing backlash from students, employees and alumni.
“The University is grateful for the judge’s ruling today and the strong support of First Amendment rights it reflects,” SPU said in a statement provided to RNS. “These rights include freedoms for leaders of faith-based institutions like ours to make their own decisions on self-governance.”