Firings for being 'too religious' ordered to go to jury [Excerpts]
A federal appeals court has ruled that a trial must be held on claims by a husband and wife team fired from their apartment management jobs by a supervisor who told them, "You're too religious."
Such remarks, according to today's ruling from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, have in the past been cited as "direct evidence of discrimination."
The Dixons had managed a complex in Lake City, Fla., for eight years. They lived in the complex as part of their compensation. From before their tenure, displayed in the apartment complex's management office was a stained glass depiction of flowers with the words, "Consider the lilies … Matthew:6:28."
But according to reports, a regional company executive, Christina Saunders, visited the complex in anticipation of a government inspection and saw the glass artwork. According to Liberty Counsel, which has been working on the case, Saunders asked Sharon Dixon if the words on the artwork referenced the Bible.
When Sharon Dixon confirmed they did, Saunders instructed her to take it down. Sharon replied that she needed to consult her husband and co-manager, Daniel, and left the office to find him.
When the couple returned, Saunders had already removed the artwork, entered the Dixons' apartment without their permission and deposited the artwork there. According to the law firm, she then said Sharon and Daniel were "too religious," fired them and demanded they vacate their apartment within 72 hours.
The lower court's decision to presume those remarks were not discrimination "overlooks 11th Circuit precedent characterizing comparable remarks as direct evidence of discrimination," the appeals court said.
"Most notably, we have held that … saying, 'Fire Early – he is too old' constitutes direct evidence of discrimination," the court said. "A scrap of paper saying 'Fire Rollins – she is too old' is direct evidence of discrimination."
"A reasonable jury could find that Saunders's alleged comment constitutes direct evidence of religious discrimination. Because the Dixons have raised genuine issues of material fact as to whether Hallmark intentionally discriminated against them on the basis of their religious beliefs, we conclude that the district court erred by granting summary judgment on this claim."
Earlier, when the conflict developed, the Agency for Workforce Innovation ruled in favor of the Dixons' request for unemployment compensation, finding the termination was not based on job performance.
The Dixons ended up moving to Jacksonville.