Thursday, July 5, 2007

Sexual Orientation Discrimination and the Religious Liberty of Employers

Gavel Art Leonard (New York Law School) passes along this interesting decision in Fairchild v. Riva Jewelry Manuf., Inc., from a New York state trial court decision.  At issue, does the defendant have to answer certain questions about his religious beliefs in a sexual orientation discrimination case.

The facts concern a rampantly, homophobic employer who cited the Bible frequently to his employees for the view that homosexuality is a sin against God. When the employer found out that the plaintiff was gay, he told the employee that he was doomed to eternal damnation and the employer was fired the next day without any reason being given.  Plaintiff brought a sexual orientation discrimination claim under New York state law and New York City local law.

During discovery, the employer refused to answer interrogatories on the basis that revealing his views on homosexuality interfered with his free exercise of religion.  The court ordered the defendant answer the questions stating:

It is the duty of every Court to guard jealously the great right and privilege of free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship without discrimination or preference, with all the power the Court possesses, but no person should be permitted to use that right as a cloak for acts of discrimination or as a justification of practices inconsistent with the protections against invidious discrimination proscribed in New York State law.

Needless embellishment of the rights to religious liberty to one side, the court was right on the mark in coming  to this decision.


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