May 16, 2002, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that
religious institutions cannot be held liable for discriminating against
employees on the basis of religion.
The decision came after a lawsuit by an evangelical Christian
who was fired from a Catholic medical foundation after he proselytized
to other employees was thrown out by the state high court.
Healthcare West Medical Foundation (CHW) had shown religious prejudice
against Terence Silo, an employee who had been hired to work in its
medical records department in Sacramento.
He experienced a religious conversion more than a year later. He testified at the trial, “I gave my life
to Christ. My heart was filed
with the Holy Spirit and my life was changed.”
Silo met with the manager at the clinic after already having
received a poor performance evaluation in January 1993.
Silo had told a fellow employee not “to use the name of God
in vain,” and she complained. Silo had also been “preaching” to a
patient that he denied. Silo
was admonished by the managers. The
court recounted in Silo v. CHW Medical Foundation that he was not
to use the word “God…unless it’s off the clock” — not during work
time. The following month
Silo was placed on probation and unless he got more work done he was
worried he would lose his job.
papers cited three incidents in which Silo continued to “preach” and
“soul save” despite warnings, when he was fired that April. Harassment was the complaint of three of his co-workers. Silo insisted his religious discussion had
occurred during his lunch hour, and he denied he had harassed anyone.
denied by Catholic Healthcare West that they had discriminated on
the basis of religion against Silo.
The health foundation claimed that Silo was fired because of
work performance. The organization, which operates 42 hospitals
in California, Nevada, and Arizona, told that it had a policy against
grounds that the foundation could be held liable under the State Fair
Employment and Housing Act, the Third District Court of Appeal initially
ruled for Silo.
of precedents that have held religious organizations exempt from the
anti-discrimination law, the California Supreme Court asked the Court
of Appeals to reconsider that decision.
the California Constitution bars religious discrimination in the workplace,
the appeals court then decided that Silo could prevail. Employers had to try to accommodate an employee’s religious practices
under the state constitution.
and 2000, the Legislature passed amendments to the states for employment
law that will allow some religious discrimination lawsuits against
religiously affiliated hospitals.
Since the case was filed before their passage, the court did
not rule on the constitutionality of those amendments on May 16, 2002.
Carlos R. Moreno wrote for the court, religion needs “considerable
discretion to choose employees who will not interfere with their religious
mission,” but secular employers can still be held liable for religious
and other rulings permit religious organizations to make hiring and
firing decisions solely on the basis of one’s creed said attorneys
in the case.
A. Berman, who represented several churches and religious groups in
the case said the court held that the U.S. and California Constitution
protect thousands of religious employers — including religious publishing
houses, television and radio stations and churches and schools — for
litigation. Berman continued, “The impact of this is great
for religious institutions. It
indicates that the California Supreme Court is sensitive to the issue
of religious autonomy and to both the state and federal constitutional
rights of religious to regulate themselves.”
indicated that the court, even with the more recent amendments to
the fair employment law, viewed religious discrimination cases differently
from other types of discrimination claims said Stephen W. Parrish,
who represented Catholic Healthcare West.
In fact, if a religious employer were sued for sex discrimination
the court noted that it might rule another way.
Carlos R. Moreno wrote, “It is evident that restricting a religious
employer’s ability to control religious speech in the workplace raises
different constitutional issues than does a prohibition of sexual
complex are religious discrimination lawsuits said Parrish, “You almost
need to seek legal advice before you do anything because these are
such sensitive issues.”
demonstrates that the court realizes that the “breadth of a religious
organization’s mission is not limited to houses of worship,” said
Steven Drapkin, who in the case represented a religious freedom organization.
entity operated by the Roman Catholic church in the U.S., the organization
is exempt from state taxation. However,
not limiting its service to Roman Catholic is Catholic Healthcare
West and it does not sponsor or conduct religious services or Bible
studies on its premises or display religious symbols and does not
have a chaplain or chapel.
J. Poidmore, who represented Silo, has advocated religious freedom
in many of his legal cases and believes the court properly gave “more
clear protection to what I term legitimately religious employers.”
it is really a secular institution, Poidmore said he objected to the
fact the the medical foundation was protected by its religious affliliation.
that the court has recognized the rights of religious institutions
was William J. Hunt, president and chief executive of Catholic Healthcare
“We have an obligation to look out for the interest of all our employees
and patients. This ruling
reinforces our ability to do that in accordance with our own beliefs.”
Dolan, “Ruling Upholds Firing on Basis of Religious Law: Catholic Medical Clinic can dismiss an evangelical Christian proselytizer,
court finds,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2002.)
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