The lines between employees' protected religious beliefs and employees' unprotected opinions on social issues are often blurry. Indeed, such beliefs and opinions may overlap and be both. When they are both, what would otherwise be an unprotected opinion becomes a protected religious belief. This was illustrated recently by a Pennsylvania federal court case in which a university professor refused to support the LBGTQ community, as requested by her employer and other professors as a matter of social policy. Because of her non-support, she was allegedly harassed, denied a tenure-track position (the position being filled by a less-qualified, pro-LBGTQ professor), and constructively discharged.* The Court ruled that the plaintiff professor stated a valid claim of religious discrimination under Title VII.
The university contended that, at most, the plaintiff had alleged a conflict of opinions on social policy or perhaps sexual orientation discrimination, neither of which is covered by Title VII. The Court rejected these arguments, partially because social views and religious views are not mutually exclusive. The plaintiff alleged that her non-support of the LBGTQ community was because of her Baptist faith, and that she had informed the employer of the religious basis for her views. The mere fact that the pro-LBGTQ sentiments of others were social or political in nature did not make her non-support any less religious in nature. Moreover, the mere fact that others interpreted her non-support as reflecting sexual orientation bias did not make her non-support any less religious in nature. Because adverse employment actions could not be based on her religious beliefs, she had adequately pleaded a Title VII claim.
* Gadling-Cole v. West Chester Univ., No. 11-0796 (JBS) (E.D. Pa. Mar. 29, 2012).