A gay nursing instructor employed at Seattle Pacific University, a Christian educational institution, is suing the university for allegedly denying him a full-time position because he is married to a man.
Jéaux Rinedahl, a part-time nursing instructor, has worked as an adjunct professor at SPU since last year. Despite being gay and married to a man, Rinedahl is a Christian who says he agrees with the school’s religious philosophy, as well as its marketing of itself as an “inclusive” Christian institution.
When a full-time position in the nursing program opened, Rinedahl applied for it. He informed his superiors, who appeared to support his application, but was told he did not qualify.
“That’s when the announcement came, that the reason why I was not [qualified], was because I am not heterosexual, and that’s when I just started to freeze, and just started feeling sick to my stomach,” Rinedahl told Seattle-area NBC affiliate KING 5. “The whole thing was pulled out from underneath me.”
On Monday, Rinedahl filed a lawsuit against SPU alleging that the school illegally discriminated against him based on his sexual orientation, violating both state and local law.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay and transgender workers are protected from employment discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the court also found, in a separate case last year, that religious schools can treat employees as “ministers,” even if they are not directly involved with teaching religion, on the grounds that religious institutions should be allowed to determine who they employ under the so-called “ministerial exception.”
Rinedahl’s attorney, Daniel Kalish, says he and his client feel like the “ministerial exception” does not apply, since Rinedahl only taught nursing classes.
“Employers cannot discriminate under federal law and under state law,” Kalish told The Falcon, SPU’s student newspaper. “The issue here is that the supreme court has also recognized a ministerial exception. A Christian employer under certain circumstances can discriminate against an individual when they hire, those circumstances that we do not believe they apply here.”
Rinedahl believes that SPU’s rejection of his application — specifically, their justification for it — is hypocritical and exposes a “double standard,” particularly considering that the university held itself out as an “inclusive” institution. He also noted that the school has requested him to continue teaching as an adjunct professor, even after rejecting his application for a promotion.
“If I’m good enough to teach part-time, why am I not good enough to teach full-time?” he said.
Rinedahl has authored an online petition to SPU administrators that supporters can sign protesting the university’s hiring practices and urging the university to allow Rinedahl to teach full-time.
He hopes the lawsuit will lead to him becoming a full-time assistant professor of nursing, and hopes ro recoup damages for lost pay and benefits, pain and suffering, lost enjoyment of life, emotional distress and humiliation, as well as the cost of attorneys’ fees.
Yet despite his lawsuit, Rinedhal holds no ill will towards the university and hopes to continue teaching there once his lawsuit is resolved.
“I love teaching, I love nursing, and the students are just incredible,” he told The Falcon. “I do like the philosophy of SPU, I really do. Do I stand up and say ‘How dare you do this to me? I can’t support you!’ or do I say, ‘You know I love the students, the students clearly love me and I’m training future nurses in my own profession, that is the most important thing right now.'”
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