A federal judge has ruled that the non-profit Catholic Relief Services violated federal laws against sex discrimination when it denied health insurance benefits to the male spouse of a gay employee, rejecting their argument that they have a religious right to discriminate in employment.
The employee, identified in court papers as “John Doe” to protect his privacy, claimed that after being told that that CRS’s insurance plan provided health coverage for employees and their spouses regardless of sex when he was hired in 2016, his husband’s coverage was dropped in 2017 because same-sex spouses are not, in fact, covered.
In her decision, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake said that exemptions to federal laws against sex discrimination for religious-based organizations do not apply in this case because Doe’s job as a data analyst was not part of the Baltimore-based organization’s religious mission.
“CRS insists that any judicial inquiry into this case inevitably requires an inquiry into matters of Catholic faith and doctrine,” wrote Blake. “This is not so; this case concerns a social service organization’s employment benefit decisions regarding a data analyst and does not involve CRS’s spiritual or ministerial functions.”
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Blake noted that secular jobs are protected by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1963 Equal Pay Act. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County established that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination in employment also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Bias against LGBTQ employees, Blake said, was at the heart of CRS’s denial of benefits to Doe’s husband. She also noted that while Title VII’s exemption for religious organizations allows them to discriminate against members of other religions, it does not provide protection for bias based on sex, sexual orientation, and race.
“A woman married to a man would not have lost spousal health insurance benefits as Doe did,” Blake wrote. “When CRS discriminates against a gay employee like Doe, it necessarily and intentionally discriminates against that employee in part because of sex.”
A jury will now decide what damages Doe is owed.
“We are thrilled with the court’s decision, which reaffirms the longstanding legal principle that an employer cannot use religion as an excuse to discriminate against its employees based on their sexual orientation,” Doe’s attorney Shannon Leary said in a statement. “Someone’s gender or whom they love has no place in employment decisions.”
On Tuesday, CRS released a statement saying that they are considering their options moving forward.