That’s right. The federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided in Nobach v. Woodland Village Nursing Center, Inc. that a Jehovah’s Witness who refused to pray the Rosary with a Catholic patient and was fired for her refusal failed to prove her religious discrimination claim. Nursing home activities aide Nobach was asked to pray the Rosary with a Catholic patient.
Facts of the religious discrimination lawsuit
Nobach declined to pray with the patient, saying she was not Catholic and it was against her religion. Management learned about the refusal and after an investigation terminated Nobach for insubordination. Nobach, who follows the Jehovah’s Witness faith, believed her faith prohibited her from praying the Catholic prayer.
Sure sounds like a clear case of religious discrimination, right?
Nobach argued that the nursing center intentionally discriminated against her on the basis of her religion by discharging her for exercising her religious beliefs by declining to pray the Rosary. The appellate court overturned the jury verdict that held the nursing center intentionally discriminated against her. So what’s missing?
A very important fact.
Proof of discriminatory motive is key in employment discrimination lawsuits
The nursing center appealed the verdict by challenging the sufficiency of the evidence (in other words, that the jury reached a decision unsupported by the facts) that Nobach failed to prove the nursing center had any knowledge of her beliefs at the time the termination decision was made.
According to the appellate opinion, Nobach never told anybody involved in the investigation or her subsequent termination that the prayer would have violated her religious beliefs.
The only person she told was the nursing assistant who had asked Nobach to pray with the patient. The assistant did not tell anybody else. As a result, terminating Nobach could not have been motivated by discrimination against her beliefs or exercise of her beliefs.
As far as management knew, Nobach had just denied a patient’s request. This resulted in her fifth write up and management decided that was enough.
The important lesson here: to prevail on an intentional discrimination claim you must be able to prove the employer acted on a discriminatory motive.
This is not always an easy task. Employers often do not make their discrimination obvious. Employees frequently must rely upon circumstantial evidence which requires greater skill to construct a persuasive case for a jury. This is a very good reason to work with Texas employment lawyers about your employment discrimination case.
Knowledge critical to proving motive
An interesting piece of this case was that Nobach’s manager gave testimony that she would have fired Nobach for insubordination even if she had known about Nobach’s beliefs. Management decided to discharge Nobach. Her supervisor called Nobach into her office and fired her.
Nobach then explained about the religious issue. Her supervisor continued to explain that even if it was against her religion it was still insubordination.
That sounds pretty bad for the employer. So why doesn’t this prove the employer acted against her religious beliefs?
The court held that the evidence presented at trial did not prove anybody involved in the termination decision had any knowledge about her religion until after the decision. The nursing assistant apparently did not share that important detail.
It would seem, on the other hand, that had Nobach’s supervisor known about Nobach’s beliefs the employer would have made the same termination decision; but Nobach’s claim would have been much stronger.
Even if Nobach’s supervisor would have made the same decision regardless of Nobach’s beliefs, the decision still reflected an adverse employment decision based on Nobach’s exercise of her religious beliefs that required Nobach to either abandon her beliefs or lose her job.
That is a form of unlawful religious discrimination.
However, here Nobach could not prove the decision included knowledge of her religious beliefs.
For that reason her lawsuit failed.
Texas employment lawyers for employment discrimination lawsuits
Employment lawyers in Texas represent employees in religious discrimination and other employment discrimination lawsuits.
These lawsuits are not easy tasks and employers definitely fight every step of the process. Employment discrimination lawsuits begin with an administrative complaint to the EEOC or TWC. From the beginning employees must satisfy technical statutory and regulatory requirements. Employers will look for every opportunity to weaken your case. Work with an employment lawyer who understands your claims.