Could She Be Fired for Her Religion?

by | Business Law

“Kinsey”, as she is referred to, was hired at a Catholic nursing home even though she did not share the same Catholic faith. Quite contrary, Kinsey belonged to the Church of Brethren and followed their religious traditions by wearing long dresses and covering her hair. Considering she was working at an extremely religious Catholic nursing home that relayed prayers over the intercom, placed a crucifix in every room, and had mass every morning, her religious traditions conflicted. In 2007, Kinsey was told that her way of dressing was offensive to residents and their families within the Catholic institution. Kinsey arguably disagreed and refused to change her religious traditions to comply with her employer’s wishes. Because of this refusal, Kinsey was fired. In response to losing her job, Kinsey sued for religious harassment and retaliation. A federal district court judge ruled that under Title VII of federal civil rights law that “employment” only refers to hiring and firing, thus St. Joseph’s was found liable for harassment. Unhappy with this decision, St. Joseph’s appealed to the 4th Circuit. The appellate judges thought the federal district judge based his ruling on an interpretation of Title VII, which the circuit judges felt was misconstrued. They proposed a dictionary definition of employment as “the state of being employed” to justify St. Joseph’s actions. The circuit judges continued to say that the federal district judge’s interpretation of employment would create “nonsensical results.” They concluded this case by ruling in favor of St. Joseph’s as a religious institution that did not commit religious harassment and was not liable for retaliation.