A West Michigan woman who worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has sued that organization, claiming that she was fired after getting divorced while two men were allowed to divorce and remarry while keeping their jobs. It’s unclear whether the suit has much of a chance of succeeding.
Alyce Conlon worked for the evangelical campus ministry as a spiritual director at the Grand Rapids office from 2004 until she was let go in December 2011, according to a suit filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan…
Conlon was placed on paid leave early in 2011 after informing supervisors that she and her husband were considering separation or divorce.
“During this leave of absence, plaintiff followed each and every requirement of the Separation and Divorcing Staff Policy including counseling sessions and continuing communication with her supervisors as to her progress,” attorney Katherine Smith Kennedy wrote in the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, during the absence, InterVarsity employees contacted Conlon’s husband to discuss the marriage without informing her. Despite following InterVarsity’s requirements for divorce procedures, the ministry let her go because she was not successful in reconciling her marriage, her lawyer alleges.
The lawsuit claims that she was treated differently than two male colleagues, who went through separation, divorce and remarriage and were allowed to stay on staff.
“When there are significant marital issues, we encourage employees to seek appropriate help to move towards reconciliation,” InterVarsity says, according to the lawsuit. When dealing with employment issues and divorce, ministry leaders take into consideration who initiated the divorce, the impact on work competency and funding and the effect on colleagues, students, faculty and donors.
As a general rule, religious organizations are exempted from anti-discrimination laws, but not 100% of the time. And they’re not necessarily exempted from a wrongful termination suit, though they are much of the time (especially if it involves ministers, thus the term ministerial exception). But if it’s true that they allowed two men to get divorced and keep their jobs while firing her for getting divorced, IVCF will have a difficult time arguing that her firing was demanded by their religious beliefs. This will be a very interesting case to watch.