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Professor Sues University of Washington After Freedom of Speech Debate

The University of Washington is under fire because of an alleged freedom of speech violation reported by one of their professors. The professor decided to sue the institution after reprimanding him for his take on a Native American land ownership debate.

The focus of the lawsuit is the disagreement between a respected member of the University of Washington’s educational staff and the university itself. This lawsuit is especially perplexing because the incident which sparked it stems directly from a request by the governing faculty to include a statement about the professor’s beliefs in regard to the ownership of the land on which the university resides.

Stuart Reges is an engineering and computer science professor at the University of Washington. He offered his opinion on the topic at the urging of the school. However, his take on the subject was met with harsh criticism from the university. His statement offended the University of Washington because he cited the “labor theory” introduced by John Locke. John Locke was a philosopher who created the Second Treatise on Government based on the labor theory of appropriation or a natural law theory.

The theory loosely translates some subject quoted from the Bible that basically states that when a person works the land, it becomes the individual’s property. The basis of the theory was that ownership of the land on which the university sits should be historically the property of Coast Salish people. This group of Native Indigenous people resides throughout British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest, and throughout the United States and Canada. Their native language is Coast Salish.

In order to give further insight into the professor’s opinion piece inserted into his syllabus, we can refer back to the Washington Law Review’s published article recognizing the ownership of the land where the University of Washington campus sits as their property by way of this labor theory. This stance was created and adopted by the Washington Law Review in conjunction with Professor Emeritus Bob Anderson.No more details are currently available regarding the lawsuit’s progress or any other parties involved in the dispute.

Redmond, Washington Reaches Settlement in Fatal Police Shooting

The city of Redmond, Washington recently announced that it had settled with the family of a woman who was shot by police officers in her own apartment after calling 911 for help. In September of 2020, Andrea Thomas Churna called 911 to ask for police to come to her apartment for assistance. She told the 911 operators that she thought someone was trying to kill her. There was an audio recording of the 911 call. She had recently had a bad experience with her ex-boyfriend, and she was concerned.

When police arrived at the scene, they saw Churna climbing up a balcony. She told police that she had a mental health history and that she was concerned it might be playing a role. The police then asked Churna if she had a firearm. She did, and she retrieved it. While the handgun was jammed and inoperable, Churna was later shot and killed by the police. Officer Daniel Mendoza fired the fatal shot.

The Chief of the Redmond Police Department, Darrell Lowe, stated that Churna was unarmed when she was shot. Lowe admitted to the mistake, apologized to Churna’s family, and stated that the news release also contained an error. The initial report stated that Churna had confronted the officers with a handgun. That turned out to be false. The original press release also stated that multiple shots had been fired, which was also false. While there is an inquest going on, more details cannot be provided until it is concluded.

Fortunately for Ms. Churna’s family, a settlement has been reached which should provide some closure. The attorney representing Churna’s family, Kim Zak, announced that the city had reached a settlement of $7.5 million with the city of Redmond. The family and their attorney were prepared to show the multitude of errors that the city had made in handling the call of their loved one. While the settlement may provide some closure, it also has to lead to meaningful change that can prevent an issue like this from happening again. It will be interesting to see if the police department makes changes in how it receives and responds to 911 calls, particularly involving people with a history of mental health concerns.

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Filed Against the State of Washington’s Long Term Cares Act

A lawsuit was recently filed challenging the Long Term Cares Act in the state of Washington. That lawsuit was recently dismissed by a federal judge. The lawsuit sought to have the Long Term Cares Act governed by the same rules and regulations as ERISA, but the judge disagreed. In dismissing the lawsuit, the judge ruled that the Long Term Cares Act is not maintained by the employer and it is not an employee benefit plan. Therefore, the judge reasoned, the Long Term Cares Act is not subject to the same rules and regulations set up by ERISA. In addition, the court system indicated that the premiums collected by the Long Term Cares Act fall under the category of a state tax. As a result, they fall under the jurisdictions of the state courts, and not the federal courts.

The Long Term Cares Act in Washington, which was passed in 2019, was due to start collecting taxes in the form of payroll collections from employees in Washington to help cover the long-term care expenses of those who live in the state. In 2021, the governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, announced that the state would pause the collection of such taxes until the program had been reviewed by lawmakers to make sure the act was clear about how it would collect the money and how it would use it.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against the Long Term Cares Act, and it was reviewed by Judge Zilly of the US District Court. Ultimately, the case was dismissed because the judge felt the court system did not have jurisdiction. The Long Term Cares Act is not governed by ERISA, and the premiums are a tax, which means that the case does not fall under the jurisdiction of the federal court.

The plaintiffs held that the state acted as an employer when passing the Long Term Cares Act. If that were true, then the plan should be governed by ERISA. The plaintiffs also reasoned that, because the Long Term Cares Act assesses premiums on everyone and not just state employees, the state is acting as an employer in this situation. The judge dismissed this notion, but the case could be refiled with the state court system.

Some Workers in Washington State Are Fighting Vaccine Mandates

A proclamation signed by Governor Jay Inslee mandates that broad swaths of workers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 18th in order to keep their jobs. The proclamation includes most long-term care and health providers, and all K-12 education, childcare, college and state employees. The governor states that his authority lies within his February 2020 declared state of emergency due to COVID-19. According to the governor, he then has broad authority under that state of emergency to protect the health and safety of those he governs.

Some workers who are in danger of losing their job are fighting back. They have filed a lawsuit stating that the governor has overstepped his authority, and that he cannot force people to get vaccinated as a condition of employment. Among other claims, the lawyers for the state workers who signed on to the action say that the vaccine mandate for workers violates the 14th amendment. Among other things, that amendment says that the state can’t make and enforce laws that unduly affect people’s rights as citizens. To these workers, a vaccine mandate does just that.

The lawsuit also challenges the lack of religious and medical exemptions built into the governor’s proclamation, and a subsequent letter sent by the Spokane Fire Chief that the city would not make such exemptions. According to a letter sent to employers, this decision was based on the city’s ability to protect the health and safety of others who work with the unvaccinated.

In total, the lawsuit gives eleven reasons why the mandate is unlawful. It seeks monetary damages for the violation of federal law they see through the mandate, continued employment without vaccination, and repayment for attorney and court costs. The lawsuit is funded by a non-profit organization called the Washington Citizens for Liberty. It names not only the governor, but other government officials such as the Secretaries of the Departments of Transportation and Social and Health Services.

While the lawsuit is still in its early stages, it is one of many filed by workers across the country who believe that governors overstep their bounds when they put vaccine employment mandates in place.