Legal

Title VII Does Not Give Employees the Right to Proselytize

By Jon Hyman

Jun. 21, 2013

I believe that everyone’s relationship with God (whether you call that deity Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, Buddha, or something else) is personal. I have no opinion on your spiritual relationship, as should you have none on mine. Thus, I get mad whenever someone tries to shove their religious beliefs down my throat. Not only do I not care, but I can guarantee that you will not change my mind. Proselytism is one small step removed from fanaticism, and rarely, if ever, has anything good come from religious fanaticism.

I share the above as prologue to today’s discussion, which centers on Hall v. Tift County Hosp. (M.D. Ga. 6/10/13). In that case, the court rejected an employee’s religious discrimination case stemming from discipline for sending a Christian-themed email sent to a gay co-worker.

Pamela Hall, a Baptist, learned that one of the her co-workers, Amanda Dix, was a lesbian. Believing that she had a duty to save Dix from the “sin” of “homosexuality,” Hall placed a pamphlet, entitled, “How Should Christians Respond to ‘Gay’ Marriage?” in Dix’s locker. Rightfully concerned that Dix would ignore the pamphlet, Hall sent her a follow-up email, which said in part:

I saw that book in Kentucky when we went to the creation museum. I don’t want to hurt your feelings but I felt led to leave that for you and I would not be a true friend if I ignore the responsibility that God has left for his children to share the message and hold each other accountable…. Sodomy is a sin, gay people live in sin. It is not about self gratification…. When we are in God’s will we will WANT to live right and live for him and do what the Bible says and that is to go and tell! Everything else is not important…. There is only one way to heaven.

Dix complained to management, which investigated and demoted Hall from her supervisory position. In her lawsuit, Hall alleged that when the HR Administrator communicated the demotion, she said, “We could not share our faith at work. We could not talk about Jesus at work.”

Hall claimed that discipline for discussing religion at work discriminated against her because of her religion. In dismissing Hall’s case, the court disagreed.

Other employees have been disciplined for sending offensive or harassing emails. Two employees were terminated in April of 2009 for distribution of racial, ethnic, and religious materials in the form of an email that was offensive to other employees. The email makes specific reference to Islam, blacks, black Muslims, and Hispanics….

The question is whether Plaintiff was discriminated against because of her religion — was she discriminated against because she is a Christian? Without producing evidence of a non-Christian employee in the same job being treated differently after engaging in the same activity, Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case.

As I’ve said before, religious proselytization does not belong in the workplace. If you permit one employee to share his or her religious views in the workplace, you will have a difficult time disciplining or terminating another for the same reason. Employers and their employees should keep religion where it belongs—in the home and in places of worship.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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