Sinful Employee Due EEO Protection for Lack of Faith SW Legal Educational Publishing

Sinful Employee Due EEO Protection for Lack of Faith
Description Police chief announced that the police department was "God's house." He clashed with an employee who refused to be saved. They also clashed about department policy. Appeals court held that employee could speak out on department policy and could sue for religious discrimination both for the chiefís infliction of his views and for discrimination against her for lack of religious beliefs. (Updated 10-3-97)
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Religious Discrimination; First Amendment
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Venters was head radio dispatcher for the Delphi police department when a new police chief, Ives, "made it clear to Venters that he was a born-again Christian who believed that his decisions as police chief should be guided by the principles of his faith, and that he had been sent by God to Delphi to save as many people from damnation as he could." He made many comments to Venters about her need to be saved, that the police station was "God's house," that her life was immoral, and reminded her that she could be fired at any time. The two clashed about department dispatching policy. She spoke at a city council against Ivesí new dispatching plans, which the council then rejected. Ives then demoted Venters, cut her pay, made her work the night shift, and hired a new dispatcher, with no experience, to be her supervisor. She took a five month leave for medical problems. When she returned, Ives warned her not to dispute his proposals and again pressed her to be saved. A year later he told her that if she would not be saved he would have to fire her because she was an "evil spirit" and that she should commit suicide rather than continue her sinful life. Venters told Ives he had crossed the line and that she might sue. He warned her against that and later fired her for incompetence. She sued for discrimination on the basis of religion and for violation of her First Amendment rights. Trial court granted summary judgment for Delphi. Venters appealed.
Decision Reversed.
  1. Venters had "the right to speak out on matters of public concern," such as the dispatching policy considered by the city council and could not be subject to retaliation for that.
  2. As the Supreme Court has noted: "No person can be punished for entertaining or profession religious beliefs for disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance." It is up to a fact finder to determine if Venters lost her job due "to Ivesí perception that she did not measure up to his religious expectations." If so, this would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
  3. The fact that Venters did not ask to have her religious beliefs accommodated is not controlling. "Venters need only show that her perceived religious shortcomings played a motivating rule in her discharge." She has provided direct evidence of Ives' thoughts about her religious standards. This could be both quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment. Hence "the pertinent question is whether the city's evidence as to the legitimate reasons for terminating Venters eliminates any doubt as to whether religion played at least a motivating rule in her discharge."
Citation Venters v. City of Delphi, ---F.3d--- (1997 WL 471341, 7th Cir.)
123 F.3d 956 (7th Cir., 1997)

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