A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling against a man who was fired for refusing to attend an LGBTQ+ training session that he said violated his religious beliefs.
In 2018, Raymond Zdunski — a senior account clerk who worked seven years at a Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in Erie County, New York — refused twice to attend a job training session entitled “LGBTQ Cultural Competency,” The Buffalo News reported.
A BOCES is a public entity that shares educational programs and services with small local school districts.
The BOCES training was presented by the local Pride Center and covered such topics as “recognizing the difference between sex and gender, understanding aspects of identity, [and understanding how beliefs/feelings/values perpetuate oppression,” Zdunski’s lawsuit stated.
The state-mandated anti-discrimination training was designed “to facilitate a safe environment for both students and staff,” according to David O’Rourke, the district’s superintendent and the BOCES’s CEO.
In February 2018, Zdunski told his bosses he didn’t want to attend and listen to “indoctrination that is in contradiction to the tenets of his faith.” He said his beliefs “are dictated to him by the Holy Scripture,” his lawsuit noted. He requested that the BOCES create a mandatory training session about anti-Christian discrimination.
When told to attend a make-up training session in May 2018, he refused once more, restating his religious opposition in an e-mail to the BOCES’s human resources director. In his e-mail, Zdunski said he “loves all people and does not treat any co-worker or any other person differently from anybody else based upon their sexual orientation.”
The BOCES didn’t grant him a religious exemption and told him to attend the training or face discipline, including potential firing. He refused. A week later, the BOCES fired him.
Zdunski sued the BOCES, saying his firing was “unlawful religious discrimination.” His lawsuit sought re-hiring, back pay, and $10 million in damages. However, in 2022, a U.S. District Court dismissed his lawsuit, ruling that he hadn’t been fired for his religious beliefs.
He had been fired, the court said, for not attending an anti-discrimination training required of all BOCES employees under the state’s 2010 Dignity for All Students Act. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed the district court’s decision, upholding his firing from the BOCES.
O’Rourke praised the court’s decision and committed to fostering a “safe and supportive environment for all students and staff.” However, Zdunski has criticized the decision and pledged to appeal to the Supreme Court.
“It just seems like the country is against the Christian way of life, and it’s for everything else,” Zdunski said. “We’re not allowed to practice our way of life but anyone else can, it seems.”
The U.S. contains roughly 213.4 million Christian adults and only 23.6 million LGBTQ+ adults, according to data reported by the Gallup polling firm in 2019 and the Pew Research Center in 2022.