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Even religious groups can’t favor employees based on religion

by on
in Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources

Diane Roh worked her way up to director of nursing at a nursing home affiliated with the Church of Christ. She wanted to join a program that would train her for state certification to administer a nursing home, but the company didn't allow her in. Her religious affiliation (Presbyterian) was a strike against her, the boss told her.

While the company admitted it had an unwritten policy to allow only members of the Church of Christ into the training program, it claimed Roh wasn't seriously considered anyway because she lacked the qualifications under state law to enter such a program. Roh says no one ever told her that.

The result: A jury awarded Roh $170,000, but a divided appeals panel threw out the verdict, deciding that Roh didn't show she was qualified for the training program.  (Roh v. Lakeshore Estates Inc., No. 99-6172, 6th Cir., 2001)

Advice: The employer dodged the jury verdict in this case but wasted money on legal fees and lost a valuable employee. There could have been a much better outcome.

First, the company should have rescinded its discriminatory policy before the situation deteriorated into litigation. Federal law provides little leeway for employers to consider religion in hiring.

Second, if the company believed Roh was not qualified for the training program, it could have put her in a position to obtain the necessary experience. If that was not possible, the company would at least have had a stronger defense.

Finally, rather than argue in court about whether Roh met the qualifications required by the state board, she or the company could have asked the board for an interpretation.

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