Employment Practices – Part 3

A federal court in North Carolina ruled that a secular employer did not commit unlawful religious discrimination when it terminated an “ex-gay” employee.

Church Law and Tax 2002-09-01

Employment Practices

Key point 8-08.3. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits covered employers from discriminating against any employee on account of the employee’s religion. Employers are required to "reasonably accommodate" employees’ religious practices, so long as they can do so without undue hardship on the conduct of their business. Many state civil rights laws have a similar provision.

* A federal court in North Carolina ruled that a secular employer did not commit unlawful religious discrimination when it terminated an "ex-gay" employee who openly promoted his belief that homosexuals could become heterosexuals through the power of Christ. A young man ("Mark") began working for a newspaper. Mark’s superiors promoted him to the position of sales director with full knowledge of his religious background. In his application for employment, Mark indicated that he held a Masters in Divinity degree from Southwest Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. His application also disclosed that he was a consultant to a religious organization that counseled single adults, and was on the board of another religious organization. In his application, he listed his former position as a pastor at a local church. In his new job, Mark implemented several new ideas and was given favorable ratings on his annual evaluation. During his first year of employment, Mark on several occasions voiced his religious beliefs to his supervisor and other employees. According to Mark, he was a believer and follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ. As part of his religion, he believed that homosexual behavior is moral perversion forbidden by the express command of God, and constitutes sin. He adhered to the belief that a homosexual who desires to change, can change and lead a "normal, healthy, heterosexual existence through repentance for past behavior, future obedience to God, and the changing power of Christ." His beliefs were bolstered by his own experience. He believed that through repentance, the power of Christ, and his obedience to God, he was delivered from living as a homosexual to leading a heterosexual lifestyle. Mark openly shared his beliefs, and expressed them in a letter to the editor of his newspaper as well as in a regional church conference. Mark’s zeal began to adversely affect his relationship with his supervisor. They held several meetings in which his supervisor documented incidents of insubordination and disrespect. Eventually, Mark’s employment was terminated. The EEOC later sued the newspaper, alleging that Mark was dismissed because he "publicly voiced his sincerely held religious belief, that as a Baptist, he could transform gay men and lesbians into heterosexuals." It also pointed out that Mark was fired two months after receiving a "commendable" rating on his annual performance review, and this proved that he was fired on account of his religious views.

The court ruled that the newspaper had not committed unlawful religious discrimination. To the contrary, the newspaper had shown that it fired Mark for insubordination and disrespect of management. With regard to Mark’s termination two months after a favorable performance review, the court simply noted that the fact that he "expressed a religious viewpoint and subsequently was terminated is immaterial without evidence that his religious beliefs in some way affected his employment status." Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. The News and Observer Publishing Company, 180 F.Supp.2d 763 (E.D.N.C. 2001).

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