Friday, June 29, 2012

Religious Interrogatories Quashed On Privacy and Free Exercise Grounds

In Guthrey v. California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89174 (ED CA, June 27, 2012), a California federal magistrate judge sustained objections by defendants in a religious discrimination lawsuit to interrogatories put forward by plaintiff Raymond Guthrey regarding the individual defendant's religious beliefs.  Guthrey, an adherent of the Ananda Marga faith, was prevented by Department of Corrections employee Michael Pate, Jr. from participating in the Department of Corrections Retired Annuitant Program. Guthrey, who had been approved as a Correctional Counselor in that program, contended that Pate's actions were motivated, at least in part, by his dislike of Guthrey's religion.  Seven of plaintiff's interrogatories asked about Pate's religious beliefs and attendance at religious services. Plaintiff claimed that answers would lead to information regarding defendant's likely level of religious and racial intolerance. The court disagreed, holding that the interrogatories are irrelevant, and that even if they are not, defendant's right to privacy and the 1st Amendment protection of his religious associations allow him to refuse to answer. The court said in part:
[I]f this Court were to become a "sword" of Title VII plaintiffs used to gain access to unfettered inquisitions into an individual's most private and intimate religious views, a "chilling" impact on religious associational rights would result. Plaintiff asks this Court to compel disclosure so that the information may be used to attain monetary damages for such religious beliefs. Such circumstances would substantially burden both the individual's and the group's ability and inclination to freely pursue their religious beliefs and practices.
The court did allow Guthrey to pursue interrogatories regarding any past religious discrimination complaints against defendants, but allowed defendants to omit the names of the complainants in order to protect their privacy.