SEATTLE—As state and federal lawmakers consider drafting new legislation to counter big tech censorship of dissenting political voices, few seem to realize that an anti-discrimination law already on the books could spell big trouble for big tech companies that engage in political censorship.
Ironically, the law was enacted by one of the most politically progressive cities in the country: Seattle.
Unlike most political jurisdictions in the United States, Seattle expressly forbids discrimination on the basis of “political ideology.” Seattle defines political ideology expansively as
any idea or belief, or coordinated body of ideas or beliefs, relating to the purpose, conduct, organization, function or basis of government and related institutions and activities, whether or not characteristic of any political party or group. This term includes membership in a political party or group and includes conduct, reasonably related to political ideology, which does not interfere with job performance.
Seattle’s sweeping ban on discrimination based on political ideology doesn’t just apply to employment or public accommodations. It also includes a “Fair Contracting Practices Ordinance” banning discrimination in contracting.
This is important because contracting includes almost anything a business does when interacting with consumers and other businesses. Whenever a business sells a product or a service to customers, it is contracting with those customers to provide something.
The potential reach of Seattle’s law is breathtaking. An attorney asked by Mind Matters News to review the law explains that
the definition of a “contract” covered by the ordinance means “any agreement to perform a service or provide goods that entails a legally binding obligation, where such contract is executed within, or intended to be wholly or partly performed within The City of Seattle.” A “contractor” means “any business enterprise” excluding landlords that are “contracting to do business within the city.” And the definition of “contractor” includes “vendors and suppliers selling or furnishing materials, equipment, goods or services.”
A person doesn’t necessarily have to live in Seattle or even Washington State in order to file legal action under the law. The attorney asked to review the ordinance for Mind Matters News adds:
a “person” entitled to protection under the ordinance includes one or more individuals or business entities. This definition does not impose any residency requirement. If a person enters into a contract with a business enterprise doing business in the City and the contract is performed at least in part within the City then the ordinance applies.
There are two ways individuals or groups can raise a complaint under Seattle’s anti-discrimination contracting ordinance: They can file an administrative complaint, or they can file a lawsuit. Unlike some civil rights laws, Seattle’s fair contracting ordinance does not require someone to file an administrative complaint before filing a lawsuit. They can file a lawsuit immediately.
The Seattle anti-discrimination law packs a punch. According to the attorney retained to analyze the law, the ordinance authorizes remedies available under Washington State law, and state law authorizes “actual damages plus the costs of bringing the suit… plus remedies authorized by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988.” Those remedies include “injunctive relief, orders requiring affirmative action, and punitive damages.”
Damages requested under the law could be severe. The attorney says: “Although the administrative process appears to limit pain and suffering damages to $10,000, there is no similar limit on causes of action filed in court… Additionally, the ordinance makes expressly clear that damage awards for humiliation and mental suffering are not subject to the ordinance’s limits for the administrative process.”
Seattle’s fair contracting ordinance could spell big trouble in particular for Amazon.com.