Friday, December 16, 2016

Firing Clerk Who Refused To Process Same-Sex Marriage Licenses Did Not Violate Title VII

In Summers v. Whitis, (SD IN, Dec. 15, 2016), an Indiana federal district court held that an Indiana County Clerk did not violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act when she fired a deputy clerk who refused, on religious grounds, to process marriage licenses for same-sex couples. The court held:
Here, the court finds no objective conflict between Summers’ duties as a deputy clerk and her religious opposition to same-sex marriage. When it came to marriage licenses, Summers’ job merely required her to process the licenses by entering data and handing out information. Specifically, she had to pull up the application, verify that certain information was correct, collect a statutory fee, print a form, and record the license in a book for public record. At bottom, she was simply tasked with certifying–on  behalf of the state of Indiana, not on her own behalf– that the couple was qualified to marry under Indiana law. The duties were purely administrative.
To be clear, Summers did not perform marriage ceremonies or personally sign marriage licenses or certificates. She was not required to attend ceremonies, say congratulations, offer a blessing, or pray with couples. Her employer did not make her express religious approval or condone any particular marriage. Summers remained free to practice her Christian faith and attend church services. She was even free to maintain her belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Thus, she was not forced to “choose between [her] religious convictions and [her] job.”...
... [T]he court does not question the sincerity of Summers’ beliefs. She maintains that “it’s not God’s law to have [same-sex couples] marry,” ... and has pointed to select verses from the Bible in support. That is fine; she has every right to believe that. However, that belief, no matter how sincerely espoused, does not objectively conflict with the purely administrative duty to process marriage licenses. Summers’ desire to avoid handling forms related to activities of which she personally disapproves is not protected by federal law. Title VII is not a license for employees to  perform only those duties that meet their private approval.
The court held, alternatively, that any religious conflict was with federal law, not with an employment requirement.