Labor & Employment

11th Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Suit by Worker Who Wouldn't Give Same-Sex Relationship Counseling

A federal appeals court has affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit by a former counselor who claimed her constitutional rights were violated when she was laid off after refusing to provide relationship counseling to a gay woman.

In a ruling (PDF) Tuesday, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a judge’s dismissal of Marcia Walden’s claims against the Computer Sciences Corporation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and two CDC employers.

Walden worked as a counselor for Computer Sciences Corp., which administered the CDC’s Employee Assistance Program in 2007, when she was visited by a CDC employee seeking advice over a problem she was having with her same-sex partner of 18 years.

Walden, who describes herself as a devout Christian who believes same-sex relationships are immoral, told the woman she could not provide her counseling because it conflicted with her “personal values.” She referred the woman to a colleague for counseling.

But the employee, who was upset by Walden’s treatment of her, complained to higher-ups at the CDC, who asked that Walden be removed from her counseling job under its contract with CSC. Walden was subsequently laid off.

The appeals court, in an opinion by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie Seymour, sitting by designation, said there was no evidence in the record to suggest that Walden lost her job over to her faith-based need to refer clients who needed same-sex counseling to other counselors. Rather, it was the manner in which she handled the employee’s referral and her employer’s concerns that she would behave the same way if a similar situation were to arise in the future that resulted in her being laid off, the the judge said.

Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel Byron Babione, who represented Walden, said he was disappointed in the ruling. “It is unlawful to punish a Christian for abiding by her faith, particularly when she made every effort to accommodate the interests of a potential client,” he said in a statement. “We are determining next steps to ultimately vindicate Marcia and the freedoms for which she’s fighting.”

Hat Tip: Associated Press.

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