Appeals court rules against Georgia counselor who wouldn’t work with lesbian client

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit By Laura Douglas-Brown
GA Voice

ATLANTA — It might pale in comparison to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision against Proposition 8, but the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled on another gay rights case this week.

The court held that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did not violate counselor Marcia Walden’s rights to religious freedom when she was laid off after refusing to work with a client in a lesbian relationship.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Walden was removed from her job not because of her religious objections to gay relationships, but because she chose to tell the client — identified only as Jane Doe — that her “personal values” prevented her from working with her, the three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled.

CDC officials had stated they were concerned that employees who were vulnerable and seeking counseling would face further stress from Walden’s explanation, instead of her giving a more neutral reason for referring them to other counselors.

Therefore, “the behavior for which she was discharged – the manner in which she referred Ms. Doe – was not protected conduct under the Free Exercise Clause. This is so because Ms. Walden’s religious beliefs did not require her to tell Ms. Doe the reason for the referral,” the appeals court held.

Client felt ‘judged and condemned’

Walden worked for Computer Sciences Corporation, which provided health and wellness services for the Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s employee assistance program. Under the contract, the CDC “could request the immediate removal of an EAP employee from the program,” the ruling noted.

Walden, who describes herself as “a devout Christian who believes that it is immoral to engage in same-sex sexual relationships,” told her supervisors that her religious beliefs would not allow her to provide counseling about gay relationship issues, according to court documents — although she said she could counsel lesbian and gay individuals about other issues. She discussed her beliefs with her supervisor at Computer Sciences Corporation after she referred a gay client to another counselor.

Problems began when Walden provided an intake counseling session for a lesbian CDC employee identified in court documents as Jane Doe. During the session, Doe disclosed that she and her female partner had been together for 18 years, that they had an 8 year old son, and she was very upset that her partner had forged her name on credit applications.

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