An interesting decision was handed down by a Virginia federal court which was faced with a claim that an employee was discriminated against not because of her own religious beliefs but because she did not share her supervisor’s religious beliefs.

A second new decision is somewhat similar – it deals with an employee whose conception of “The Ten Commandments” differed from her employer’s.

Supervisor’s Religious Overtures Spurned

In the first case, a “spiritual” Virginia library assistant was uncomfortable with the “religious overtures” of her supervisor, an Evangelical “Orthodox Christian.”  The employee declined the supervisor’s invitations to join a Bible study group, start the day with a devotion and prayer (which she felt was inappropriate at school), and attend a religious conference. The supervisor told her during an evaluation meeting that she felt a “righteous anger” toward her, which Plaintiff took at its Biblical meaning, and she eventually complained to the board about religious harassment by the supervisor.

Plaintiff was fired for poor performance evaluations, the supervisor repeatedly commenting that she was “insubordinate” or failed to work cooperatively.  She sued claiming religious discrimination.

On its summary judgment motion, the Defendant contended that under the original McDonnell Douglas framework, Plaintiff was unable to show that she was a member of a protected class.  However, the Court held that a “modified prima facie test” was appropriate, where, as here, the McDonnell Douglas test did not “neatly fit” a claim that Plaintiff “was discriminated against because she did not share her supervisor’s religious beliefs.”

The Court said that “Under this [modified] test, there is no requirement that Plaintiff be a member of a protected class, since ‘it is the religious beliefs of the employer, and the fact that Plaintiff does not share them, that constitute the basis of the claim.  …  Put differently, ‘[w]here discrimination is not targeted against a particular religion, but against those who do not share a particular religious belief, the use of the protected class factor is inappropriate.’”

“Our Ten Commandments” — Religious Belief or Office Rules? 

In a second lawsuit, a Pennsylvania federal court upheld an employee’s claim of religious discrimination based upon her firing as a receptionist in a medical office for refusing to wear a badge which set forth “Our Ten Commandments” (ten office rules) because it was against her religion which has its own Ten Commandments.

The Defendant contended that the badge simply used the term “Ten Commandments” to set forth its office rules and not in any religious sense, and therefore Plaintiff’s claim could not be grounded in religious discrimination, but the Court nonetheless refused to become embroiled in a religious argument and found that Plaintiff was sincere in her religious beliefs.

The Court accordingly refused to dismiss her claim, and held that “By asking this Court to determine if plaintiff is misreading the tenets of her Roman Catholic faith, defendants are asking this court to be an ‘arbiter of scriptural interpretation. … Not only is it inappropriate for a court make a factual determination in a … motion to dismiss, a scriptural determination is ‘not within the judicial function and judicial competence.’”

See Ambrose v. Gabay ENT & Associates PC, case number 2:12-cv-05453 (E.D. Pa.).