A Texas health instructor who is also an immigrant from Guatemala has charged her former employer for discrimination after she lost her job for refusing to teach contraception, which violates her religious beliefs.
“My Catholic faith teaches me that contraception is wrong,” Karen Alexia Palma told The Washington Post. “I cannot teach a class that violates my religious beliefs. I will always put my faith first.”
Palma filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Wednesday, nearly six months after she was fired by Legacy Community Health in Houston.
As a health educator, Palma taught family planning class three times a month. According to this devout Catholic worker, Legacy Community Health had been willing to accommodate her beliefs against contraception for a year and a half, allowing her to play a 20-minute video about birth control instead of personally talking about it with patients. Indeed, there was even a registered nurse on-site to answer questions patients might have about contraception.
“When she took the job and was told to teach a class on birth control, she told her supervisors that she would be unable to teach it because of her Catholic faith,” Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, the law firm representing Palma, told PJ Media in an email statement. “They understood and worked out an accommodation.”
By contrast, when “new managers came on the scene, they also knew about her Catholic faith but refused the accommodation.”
“The religious accommodation was very small and it did not increase the work of other employees at Legacy, nor did it cause hardship upon my employer,” Palma explained in documents. “Moreover, it did not affect the vast majority of what I did as a health educator.” Indeed, the contraception education took up only about 2 percent of her job.
In June, however, Palma recalled that new management ordered her to begin teaching patients about contraceptives. To make matters worse, she was also ordered to attend mandatory training at a Planned Parenthood location. This would have been particularly offensive to a devout, pro-life Roman Catholic.
The health worker said she was fired after raising concerns during a meeting in late June. She added that another employee had volunteered to substitute for her so that she wouldn’t have to discuss contraceptives with patients, but new management refused to work with her in figuring out alternative accommodations.
“We dispute the allegations made in the EEOC filing by Karen Palma and are reviewing her personnel file,” wrote Legacy Community Health spokesman Kevin Nix in a statement. “Legacy’s mission is to serve the health needs of our community, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay and without judgment” — two things not at all involved in this case. “We also respect and value diversity in our staff, which extends to matters of faith.”
Amy Leonard, vice president of public health services, told Palma in a June 29 email that “sometimes employees may need to put aside their own personal beliefs or views to meet the job requirements.” Leonard argued that Palma’s job responsibilities included not just playing a video, but openly discussing contraception with patients.
Dys, the First Liberty lawyer, said the health worker’s termination had nothing to do with her job performance. Dys cited the 2015 Supreme Court decision in E.E.O.C. v. Abercrombie & Fitch, which ruled that the clothing store could not refuse to hire an applicant if the reason was to avoid accommodating a religious practice.
In that ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that an employer “may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.” Scalia also argued that “an employer who acts with the motive of avoiding accommodation” may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act “even if he has no more than an unsubstantiated suspicion that accommodation would be needed.”
Dys argued that “the company gave Alexia an ultimatum — violate your faith or be fired. “That’s a violation of federal law and it is blatant religious discrimination.” He said that the law requires employers to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs, so long as such accommodation does not pose undue hardship on the company.
The First Liberty lawyer added that the accommodations for Palma were “very simple” and would not impact the company or the vast majority of her duties.
In her EEOC complaint, Palma explained her belief that birth control “disrupts the natural beauty of how God designed our bodies to work.” This aligns with Catholic doctrine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to contraception as contradictory to the “language” of married love, “not giving oneself totally to the other” and thereby leading to “a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love.”
“I hope Legacy can see that what they did was wrong and never ask anybody else to violate their religious beliefs or their faith,” Palma told The Washington Post.
She explained that her faith is a critical part of her life, as it helped her get through a difficult period of abuse in childhood. “Through my difficult childhood of abuse and abandonment, God has always been faithful to me, so I must be faithful to him. My faith comes first.”