Businesses and nonprofits that receive taxpayer money and contract with government agencies to provide services may be prohibited from using religious criteria in hiring and firing. And hiring on the basis of someone’s religious beliefs or affiliation may be proof that an employer has crossed the line.
Recent case: A former employee and several taxpayers sued the private Kentucky Baptist Homes, which took state and federal funds and contracted with a state agency to provide foster care for abused children.
When the organization discovered that one of its social workers was a lesbian, it fired her. At the same time, it reasserted its mission to spread Christianity among the children and families it served by stating, “It is important that we stay true to our Christian values. Homosexuality is a lifestyle that would prohibit employment.”
The 6th Circuit dismissed the sexual orientation discrimination claim, saying Title VII doesn’t protect homosexuals from discrimination.
However, it allowed the taxpayers to continue their lawsuit, alleging that the organization unconstitutionally established religious practices on behalf of the state. It said the employment policy could be used as evidence that adhering to a particular religion was required. (Pedreira, et al., v. Kentucky Baptist Homes, No. 08-5538, 6th Cir., 2009)
Final note: The court hinted that if the fired social worker could have shown she was terminated because of her religious beliefs, she might have had a case.
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