Employee Suspended for Views on Beyonce, Jay Z, Homosexuality, and More
May 27, 2014
In early May, the Director of Public Health for the city of Pasadena, CA, Eric Walsh, was placed on temporary leave after the state office discovered a series of online videos in which he appeared giving religious sermons. Links to the videos were discovered after Pasadena City College announced that Walsh would be a commencement speaker.
Among the topics covered in his sermons are the following:
Claims that homosexuality is a sin;
Condemnation of popular culture, specifically that celebrities such as Beyonce, Jay Z, and Oprah were anti-Christs;
That the Islamic prophet Muhammad was a Satanist;
That evolution is a satanic belief; and
That Catholicism and other sects of Christianity were satanic.
Following the enactment of the administrative leave, many Californians were left wondering whether Walsh’s employer had the right to suspend him for expressing such beliefs, or whether the suspension was a violation of his employment rights.
Was This Religious Discrimination?
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer—public or private—is prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. This means that an employer may not take any discriminatory or retaliatory action against an employee based on that employee’s religious beliefs. Walsh may claim that his suspension was due to his expression of religious beliefs in a sermon and therefore constituted unlawful religious discrimination. However, the majority of his beliefs (such as anti-gay and anti-Islam) can be secular beliefs, as well. The city of Pasadena appears to have taken action based on the content of his beliefs and not necessarily the religious origin of them. Therefore, there can be an argument made against religious discrimination.
What About Free Speech?
The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees the right to free speech. However, a public employer may, under certain circumstances, discipline employees for their speech without violating First Amendment rights. For example, if the type of speech in question has a tendency to disrupt public or work relations, the public employee has a greater interest in avoiding such disruption than the value of the employee’s free speech. In Walsh’s situation, his statements against homosexuals and other religions from a high level public employee may cause certain backlash with the public in California. Therefore, the office has an argument that his suspension was warranted and did not violate his free speech rights.
Walsh was in additional trouble for failing to disclose his pastor income on his California Form 700, which discloses all forms of income to the city. He has since resigned from his position as Public Health Director and also lost a job offer in Georgia due to the controversy.
If you believe you may have suffered any type of unlawful employment discrimination, you should always contact an experienced California employment law attorney to discuss a possible case. Many employment cases are not cut and dry, therefore you should never hesitate to express your concerns with a lawyer.