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Judge Allows Fraud Claim to Proceed Against Seattle Pacific University President and Trustee


April 6, 2023



Judge Allows Fraud Claim to Proceed Against Seattle Pacific University President and Trustee; Denies Plaintiffs’ Remaining Claims

On April 6, 2023, Washington State Judge Andrea Darvas ruled in the case brought by students, faculty and staff of Seattle Pacific University (SPU) against the university’s president and some members of its board of trustees for breaches of fiduciary duty, fraud and other claims relating to a May 2022 board vote on whether to change SPU’s discriminatory hiring policy that allows the university to reject candidates and terminate employees who are in same-sex marriages.

The judge allowed plaintiffs’ fraud claims against university president Pete Menjares and board trustee Matthew Whitehead to proceed, finding that “Plaintiffs adequately pled the nine elements of fraud.” The judge rejected the defendants’ First Amendment and other defenses. However, the judge dismissed the plaintiffs’ remaining claims on standing, First Amendment and other grounds.

Plaintiff Laur Lugos, a current SPU student and former student body president, reacted to the judge’s ruling, stating “I feel vindicated that the judge allowed our claims for fraud to proceed. At the heart of this dispute is that some of our university leaders deceived us and never intended to allow the Board, in cooperation with the university community, to change SPU’s hiring policy.”

Paul Carlos Southwick, lead attorney and Director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, stated “Fraud is a serious offense. By allowing the fraud claims to proceed, the judge is sending a strong message to defendants about the seriousness of plaintiffs’ allegations. Whether you are a religiously affiliated university or not, you cannot deceive your student body, faculty and staff by telling them you will allow a university process to change an anti-LGBTQ+ hiring policy, when you actually had no intention of letting that happen.”

Plaintiffs are represented by:

Paul Carlos Southwick

Joseph Baxter

Paul Southwick Law, LLC

Clifford S. Davidson

Snell & Wilmer


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