Thursday, April 05, 2018

Suit Over "In Christ" E-Mail Signature Moves Ahead

In Mial v. Foxhoven, (ND IA, April 4, 2018), an Iowa federal district court refused to dismiss Title VII and state religious discrimination claims brought by Michael Mial who had been fired from his position as a security specialist in the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders (CCUSO) of the Iowa Department of Human Services.  Mial's dismissal resulted from his insistence on using the valediction "In Christ" on e-mails he sent on his CCUSO e-mail account, in violation of a rule against personal messages in e-mail signatures.  The court found that Mial's signature message was part of his "religious belief that he must proclaim his faith in everything he does." The court rejected CCUSO's claim that  Establishment Clause concerns justified its refusal to offer Mial a reasonable accommodation, saying in part:
there is scant evidence that Mial’s use of “In Christ” at the end of work-related email messages (such as in various requests for shift changes or time off) would lead the public to assume CCUSO was endorsing a religion. 
The court concluded:
[D]efendants have not shown as a matter of law that the Establishment Clause prevented them from offering an accommodation. Nor have they demonstrated, as a matter of law, that Mial’s email valediction caused any disruption in the workplace or violated any neutral, generally applicable rules or procedures. Of course, the jury could decide that Mial’s use of the valediction violated neutral policies about professional conduct and following supervisory directives. If so, then a duty to accommodate may not apply. However, I am not able to reach such a conclusion as a matter of law. Defendants’ motion for summary judgment must be denied.