Thursday, January 28, 2016

Former Atheist Employee Can Move Ahead With Title VII Suit Against Christian Business

Mathis v. Christian Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc., (ED PA, Jan. 25, 2016) is a discrimination lawsuit brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights and and under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act by an installation mechanic who was fired  or constructively discharged for covering the back of his identification badge with tape to hide his employer company's religious mission statement.  The company's owner is a born-again Christian, while plaintiff is an atheist.  The statement which plaintiff taped over read:
This company is not only a business, it is a ministry. It is set on standards that are higher than man’s own. Our goal is to run this company in a way most pleasing to the Lord.
Treating employees and customers as we would want to be treated along with running a business as if we are all part of one big family is our plan.
The court rejected defendant's RFRA defense, holding that RFRA applies only to suits in which the government is a party.  The court went on to hold that plaintiff had established a prima facie case of failure to accommodate his atheistic beliefs, saying:
Under Title VII, atheists are entitled to the exact same protection as members of other religions.... A reasonable trier of fact could infer from this evidence that Peppelman terminated plaintiff’s employment “with the motive of avoiding accommodation,” in violation of Title VII.
The court also held that plaintiff can move ahead with his retaliation claim.