4th Circuit Tosses Claim for Religious Harassment and Retaliation

In an important ruling this week, the 4th Circuit held that Title VII, when applied to “religious organizations”, not only allow religious-based discrimination in hiring and firing decisions, but also essentially allows religious-based harassment and retaliation.

The plaintiff, a former nurse at a Catholic assisted living facility, claimed she was harassed, fired, and retaliated against based on her religious beliefs. She sued under Title VII. The trial court dismissed the portion of her lawsuit based on her termination under the Title VII exception for religious organizations. The trial court did, however, allow her retaliation and harassment claims to continue. The facility appealed.

The 4th Circuit reversed, holding that Title VII’s religious exemption prohibited the entire lawsuit, including the former employee’s claims of harassment and retaliation. In effect, the court’s ruling permits religious organizations to harass employees based on those employees’ differing religious beliefs, a somewhat strange result, but now the binding federal law in Virginia nonetheless.

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