Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Private University Interferes with Private Life of Its Employee

Inside Higher Ed is reporting this morning about how a Catholic university in Florida would not allow one of its temporary music instructors to travel on a school field trip while lodging with her lesbian partner after students filed complaints.  The teacher later resigned from the school.

From the article:

Last May, Ann Schrooten, a former temporary music instructor and interim director of the liturgical choir at the University of St. Thomas wanted to take her lesbian partner and their son on a class trip to France. Ultimately, after students at the Roman Catholic institution complained to the campus ministry, university officials told her that the proposed arrangement created a “moral dilemma” and that she would have to change the travel plans. She chose not to take the trip and no longer works for the university, although officials said that she was not asked to leave because of this situation.

[But discussing how they would have applied the same policy to umarried heterosexuals,] Doug Hennes, vice president of university relations, said Monday that he wasn’t sure that St. Thomas would have raised the issue with [the unmarried heterosexuals] had the Schrooten case not happened. “We don’t discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation,” he said.

Two thoughts.  On the private employment side, this is exactly why we need stronger federal and state sexual orientation discrimination laws. Being dictated to about how you can travel on a school-sponsored trip would seem to interfere with the the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment and private employers should simply not be able to do it (note that because the institution is a religious one should not make a difference here because we're talking about exempt religious discrimination, but discrimination based on sexual preference).

If this were a public university situation, I believe the case of Lawrence v. Texas provides such public employees a heightened interest in decisional non-interference in private affairs. Although this right is not absolute, it needs to be weighed against the efficiency concerns of public employers. To read more about my thoughts on the interference of the privacy rights by public employers, you can peruse this previous post.


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