Bryan Fischer Award Nominee: Ann Coulter »« Dean Chambers: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Michigan Woman Sues InterVarsity for Discrimination

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.

Comments

  1. says

    “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.

    So their church was actively monitoring their private lives the whole time? That’s not a job, it’s a loony cult. I bet their “counselors” had a delightful time interrogating them about the specifics of what they did together — JAQing off both over and under the table, as it were. Where I come from that’s called “sexual harassment” and “invasion of privacy.”

    What a ridiculous bunch of perverts. I’m sure her suit will fail (thiugh it might succeed on the grounds I cited above), but she deserves respect for speaking out. Hopefully she’ll do a bit to expose the authoritarian insanity of religions like hers.

  2. says

    IVCF will have a difficult time arguing that her firing was demanded by their religious beliefs

    Even though their religious beliefs are that women are inferior and must be subordinate to men, especially their husbands, and men are chosen by God to rule over women and judge them, especially when they’re being too uppity or slutty?

    In other words, a double standard is built right into their “sincerely held religious beliefs”.

  3. dean says

    Well clearly her marriage ended because she was an uppity womun: evidence: she was working outside the house instead of being home where she belonged. The firing was just an opportunity to get her on the straight and narrow.
    The men – they likely had uppity women wives too, and they needed to get away to protect their man auras.

    Or something.

  4. eric says

    @3: you’re probably right in that they could use that defense…but I’d be amazed if they actually did. Its IMO much, much more likely that they’ll concoct some other reason for firing her. Actually, I’d put ‘using the defense that sexism is part of our religion’ behind both ‘concocted reason’ and ‘actual reason, disgruntled employee’ in terms of likelihood.

  5. Sastra says

    My guess is that this is going to be an almost impossible case for her to win because of the reason they gave for firing her: the ministry let her go because she was not successful in reconciling her marriage. The fact that she 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” is actually going to work against her.

    Why? Because this routine (which she accepted) places the organization in the role of noncertified Over-Counselor or, in popular parlance, they are “Mom.” And if Mom thinks that no, honey, you did NOT do everything you could have done to save your marriage so try harder … then there’s no arguing with her. And if she flips the other way and says “you’re better off without him/her” then Mom has spoken. Anyone can weigh in with an opinion in cases of divorce — and they often do, privately. But just the mere presence of a Separation and Divorcing Staff Policy means there’s now an official kibitzer. And every case is unique, every marriage different. “Your brothers just weren’t married to the right women.”

    I wish her luck. Though I wish that she discovers the main problem with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship even more.

  6. busterggi says

    Of course its okay for men to get divorced – they’re just getting rid of old unwanted property but women, why they’re getting rid of actual human beings!

  7. says

    IVCF will have a difficult time arguing that her firing was demanded by their religious beliefs.

    Yeah, but who is the court to decide what is or is not IVCF’s beliefs? Unless, perhaps, they have official doctrine that lists out their beliefs.

  8. Ichthyic says

    But if it’s true that they allowed two men to get divorced and keep their jobs

    wait… IVCF let two guys get married to each other to begin with?

    ;)

  9. Ichthyic says

    Unless, perhaps, they have official doctrine that lists out their beliefs.

    to be eligible for exception, they actually DO need to have very specific documentation spelling out what their in house rules are regarding employment.

    if the rules are too vague, they can be easily ruled against in court.

  10. Alverant says

    I read about this case. It’s worse than you tell us, Ed. For one thing they put her on leave to “work on her marriage”, ordered her to see a councilor of her husband’s choosing, and gave him confidential information about her. They interfered with her life in unreasonable ways then fired her when she wouldn’t bend to their will. I think once all the facts come out, the courts will find in her favor.

  11. Michael Heath says

    Alverant writes:

    I read about this case. It’s worse than you tell us, Ed. For one thing they put her on leave to “work on her marriage”, ordered her to see a councilor of her husband’s choosing, and gave him confidential information about her. They interfered with her life in unreasonable ways then fired her when she wouldn’t bend to their will. I think once all the facts come out, the courts will find in her favor.

    I have mixed feelings about this for reasons similar to my mixed feelings about religious organizations denying health insurance coverage to women for certain items, like birth control or abortion. On the one hand I don’t want to see individuals mistreated by employers. On the other hand if the government protects the rights of employers rather than employees on these matters, I hope market forces will eventually cause people to stop working for organizations which are religious in nature or dominated by religionists who attempt to control the lives of their employees based on religious motivations.

  12. Ichthyic says

    I hope market forces will eventually cause people to stop working for organizations which are religious in nature or dominated by religionists who attempt to control the lives of their employees based on religious motivations.

    It won’t work Heath, and you should know that.

    why?

    simple population distribution differences for one; communities are not open and uniformly distributed populations.

    not every area will even have choices available, which inevitably leads to pockets of success for certain strategies that allow them to maintain themselves in their own markets, where they would ultimately meet their demise in a wider one.

    Bangladesh is full of such examples.

    it is of course, one of the most common things overlooked by supporters of free market economics.

    If we allowed market forces to control our decisions on social constructs, slavery would still be going strong in some parts of the US, and civil rights for any minority you care to name would never have become federalized.

  13. Ichthyic says

    …so, while I understand you decry a lack of government support for people facing such issues, there really is no other option available.

    either rights apply to all citizens, regardless of who employs them, or they don’t.

    the only real solution is to remove the exemptions.

Leave a Reply