A long-running battle between Seattle Pacific University’s leadership and other campus constituents over an anti-LGBTQ+ hiring policy has culminated in a lawsuit filed by students, employees and alumni against six members of the Board of Trustees, arguing that leadership has failed in its fiduciary duties and those at fault must be removed.
The policy, which bars the hiring of openly gay faculty and staff members, has been a source of contention on campus since at least early 2021. While students, employees and alumni have aligned in strong opposition to the anti-LGBTQ+ hiring policy, the administration and Board of Trustees have upheld the policy in multiple votes.
Now the lawsuit claims that leadership at the tuition-dependent private university has failed in its fiduciary duty by clinging to policies that drive prospective students away from campus.
The lawsuit, announced Monday, is the result of a crowdfunded effort to take legal action that emerged in May after the most recent board vote to uphold the anti-LGBTQ+ hiring policy. That vote—which was rife with allegations that trustees leaked confidential information about policy deliberations to leadership of the Free Methodist Church, which SPU is affiliated with—led to campus walkouts and demonstrations, board members who resigned in protest, and a student sit-in that lasted 39 days.
The lawsuit notes that this legal dispute isn’t about religion but rather finances.
“Defendants, trustees of an ecumenical and inclusive educational institution, must be held accountable for placing their personal religious beliefs above their fiduciary duties to SPU and its people,” the lawsuit reads. “Rather than protecting this community, Defendants inflicted trauma on their fellow trustees and the entire campus. Defendants chose this path in order to defend a discriminatory hiring policy that undermined, and has torn apart, the heart and soul of SPU.”
The lawsuit is brought by a group of 16 plaintiffs, which legal counsel says represents a broad cross-section of Seattle Pacific students, faculty, staff and alumni.
“At its core, this lawsuit is about a group of rogue trustees who refuse to remove a discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ+ hiring policy even though removal of the policy is clearly in the best interests of SPU’s employees, students and the campus community,” Paul Southwick, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said by email. “Defendants breached their fiduciary duties to SPU and its people because they put their allegiance to a religious denomination above their loyalty to SPU.”
Southwick adds that the plaintiffs hope the lawsuit leads to “the removal of the rogue board members from their positions as trustees and the removal of the discriminatory hiring policy.”
A spokesperson said SPU “is aware of the lawsuit and will respond in due course.”