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6th Circuit Rules In Firefighter’s Claim of Retaliation for Religious Speech

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Hudson v. City of Highland Park, Michigan, (6th Cir., Nov. 22, 2019), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in part reversed a district court’s dismissal of claims by a firefighter that he was dismissed in retaliation for his religious views.  The court summarized the facts:

Hudson worked for the Highland Park Fire Department from 2002 to 2015. Over time, he developed a reputation for two things: being an effective firefighter and being outspoken about his Christian faith. According to Hudson, the other firefighters had reputations too—for watching pornography in communal spaces and engaging in extra-marital affairs at the fire station. All of this created tension. He criticized their behavior, and they responded with disrespectful comments about his religious practices and sexual orientation. The back and forth went on for five years.

Hudson was fired after he claimed extra hours on his time sheet and reported he had worked the same shift for two different employers. The 6th Circuit held, however, that Hudson had shown enough to avoid dismissal on the pleadings of his claim that the Chief had fired him because of his speech. The court however affirmed the dismissal of his Title VII religious discrimination claim, saying in part:

Employees are free to speak out about misconduct in the workplace without subjecting themselves to discharge for rocking the boat…. Employees are no less free to root legitimate criticisms about the workplace in their faith than in any other aspects of their worldview. For many people of faith, their religion is not an abstraction. It has consequences for how they behave and may require them to be witnesses and examples for their faith. That reality does not permit differential treatment of them because they criticize behavior on moral grounds stemming from religious convictions as opposed to moral grounds stemming from secular convictions. “Let firemen be firemen” is not a cognizable defense to Title VII claims based on gender discrimination, race discrimination, or faith-based discrimination.

Even so, Hudson’s disparate treatment claim fails…. He cannot show that the city’s justification for his discharge amounted to a pretextual basis for discriminating against him because of his faith. The fire department put forth a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for treating Hudson differently. He falsified his time-sheets while other firefighters did not.

Judge Kethledge, dissenting in part, would have affirmed the dismissal of Hudson’s claim that he was fired in retaliation for his speech. Judge Stranch dissented in part, contending that Hudson should have been allowed to move ahead on his hostile work environment claim which the majority held should be dismissed.

You can learn more about this issue here.

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