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Maryland Supreme Court says it’s OK for Catholic charity to discriminate against gay employee

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The Maryland Supreme Court has ruled in a 4-3 decision against a gay man whose employer, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), refused health benefits to his husband.

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that businesses can’t discriminate against LGBTQ+ employees, the Maryland Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision may not apply here because of a state law allowing some religious-affiliated organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

The unnamed plaintiff in the Maryland case was hired by CRS in 2016 as a program data analyst, The Baltimore Banner reported. CRS terminated the plaintiff’s partner healthcare benefits in October 2017, informing the plaintiff that it had mistakenly provided the benefits despite its policy of not providing them to employees in same-sex relationships.

The plaintiff sued CRS in June 2020. But Maryland’s high court ruled on Monday that the state’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation since it only mentions sex and gender identity.

The plaintiff argued that discrimination based on sexual orientation is the same thing as discrimination based on sex and gender, the same reasoning that the U.S. Supreme Court expressed in its 2020 Bostock v. Clayton Co. decision.

However, in his majority opinion, Maryland Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Biran wrote that if Maryland’s General Assembly believed that sexual orientation was also covered under sex discrimination when it amended the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act in 2001, “it presumably would have made that clear in some fashion.”

Biran also noted that the state’s Fair Employment Practices Act provides an exemption that allows some religious-affiliated organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

The aforementioned publication noted that the case is “ongoing” and that the Maryland Supreme Court’s ruling was only to clarify state law rather than determine whether such discrimination should be allowed under federal law.

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