Catholic group wrong to deny benefits to gay worker’s husband, court hears

A federal judge in Maryland has ruled that a Catholic nonprofit organization unlawfully discriminated against a gay employee by denying her husband spousal benefits.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake said Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, and another federal law, the the 1963 equal pay, when she withdrew benefits from the employee’s husband, reports Today’s newspaper, a Maryland newspaper. The employee is identified in the suit by the alias John Doe.

When Doe was hired as a data analyst for the agency, he was told it provided health insurance to employees’ spouses regardless of gender, according to his lawsuit. This was in the middle of 2016. However, in November of that year, she was told that the benefits had been given to her husband in error, her complaint states. After much back and forth between Doe and agency officials, benefits were canceled on Nov. 1, 2017, just as Doe’s husband was undergoing expensive dental work.

Catholic Relief Services officials argued that the organization was entitled to exemption from anti-discrimination laws because of its religious nature, and they cited the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage. But Blake said Doe’s work is not religiously focused and exemptions typically granted when employees are involved in ministry do not apply in her case.

“CRS insists that any forensic investigation into this matter inevitably requires an investigation into matters of Catholic faith and doctrine,” Blake wrote in its decision, released last week. “It is not so; This case concerns decisions of a social service organization regarding employment benefits for a data analyst and does not involve the spiritual or ministry functions of CRS. »

“A simple reading of [federal antidiscrimination law] reveals Congress’ intent to protect religious organizations seeking to employ co-religionists, but CRS’s preferred reading would result in a relatively narrow written exception to swallow up all of Title VII, effectively exempting religious organizations wholesale,” he said. she continued. “If Congress had wished to exempt religious organizations in this manner, it could have done so, but it clearly did not.”

In 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. County of Clayton that Title VII, by prohibiting sex discrimination in the workplace, also applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In a separate ruling that year, the court gave religious groups some leeway to discriminate in jobs involving ministerial duties.

Doe’s lawsuit accused Catholic Relief Services of violating federal and state laws. Blake ruled that he violated the sex discrimination prohibition of Maryland’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, and she said the band admitted the violation because it “provides dependent benefits male spouses of female employees who perform work of similar skill and effort, assume similar responsibilities and share a common core of duties with Doe, a male employee with a male spouse.

She said she would ask the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, to determine whether the organization violated Maryland’s Fair Employment Practices Act or whether a religious exemption s applied here. She also said a jury will determine what damages the band owes Doe.

A lawyer for Doe welcomed the decision. “We are delighted with the court’s decision, which reaffirms the long-standing legal principle that an employer cannot use religion as an excuse to discriminate against its employees because of their sexual orientation,” said Shannon Leary of Gilbert Employment Law. in a press release. The daily record reports. “Someone’s gender or the person they love has no place in employment decisions.”

Catholic Relief Services released a statement saying, “We have studied the opinion and are considering our options for the future.”

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