A federal court has ruled that in refusing to provide healthcare benefits for the husband of a gay employee, Catholic Relief Services has broken federal anti-discrimination laws.
For secular jobs, the Baltimore-based humanitarian organization must offer coverage to the spouses of gay employees, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake, of the District of Maryland, said in her ruling.
The employee, known as John Doe, claimed in his lawsuit that he was originally told that Catholic Relief Services would provide health coverage for employees and spouses, no matter their sex. But a year after he was hired in 2016, he found out that same-sex couples were not covered when his husband’s coverage was dropped, with CRS saying it had mistakenly granted him coverage in the first place.
In her decision, Blake found that, by rescinding the coverage the organization was in violation of federal prohibitions on sex-based discrimination contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
“A woman married to a man would not have lost spousal health insurance benefits as Doe did,” she wrote. “When CRS discriminates against a gay employee like Doe, it necessarily and intentionally discriminates against that employee in part because of sex.’
Although there are existing exemptions from nondiscrimination law for religious-based organizations, Blake wrote that Doe’s job did not count as it was not tied directly to the religious aspects of the organization.
“CRS insists that any judicial inquiry into this case inevitably requires an inquiry into matters of Catholic faith and doctrine,” she wrote. “This is not so; this case concerns a social service organization’s employment benefit decisions regarding a data analyst and does not involve CRS’s spiritual or ministerial functions.”
Secular jobs, she pointed out, are protected by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1963 Equal Pay Act, while a section of Title VII permits religious organizations to discriminate against other religious groups, but not against any other protected classes such as sex and sexual orientation.
“A plain reading of Section 702(a) reveals Congress’s intent to protect religious organizations seeking to employ co-religionists, but the reading urged by CRS would cause a relatively narrowly written exception to swallow up all of Title VII, effectively exempting religious organizations wholesale,” Blake wrote. “Had Congress wished to exempt religious organizations in this manner, it could have done so, but it plainly did not.”
CRS may choose to appeal Blake’s ruling, but if it stands, a jury will decide how much money the employee receives in compensation, and CRS will no longer be permitted to prohibit same-sex spouses from receiving healthcare benefits.
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