Man Says City Fired Him for Being Mormon
SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) - A Georgia resort city fired its Mormon employee for refusing to go to Episcopal church, drink, gamble and play the "Screw Your Neighbor" card game, the man claims in court.
Steele Knudson sued the City of Tybee Island, Ga., in Chatham County Superior Court. The city is the only defendant.
Tybee Island, pop. 3,000, is a barrier island 18 miles east of Savannah. It hired Knudson as a planning and zoning manager in September 2011, according to the complaint.
Knudson, who has a bachelor's degree in urban planning and a law degree from George Mason University, claims the city fired him after only four months for not "fitting in," though he was highly qualified for the job.
"Two weeks after beginning employment, on or about Monday, Oct. 10, 2011, Ms. Schleicher, [Tybee Island city manager], called Mr. Knudson into her workplace office asking about his purported attendance at the Episcopal Church the previous day and asked whether he was Episcopalian," the complaint states. "Mr. Knudson explained that he grew up in the Mormon faith but was not presently a member of a Mormon church. Ms. Schleicher inquired where Mr. Knudson and his wife would be going to church.
"In November 2011, Ms. Schleicher came into Mr. Knudson's office when he was not present. Ms. Schleicher was standing at Mr. Knudson's desk watching the alternating images on his computer screen saver, some of which images included Mormon temples and other images of Christian churches. The pictures of these structures were on the computer for work-related purposes. Ms. Schleicher directed Mr. Knudson to remove from his screen saver the images of the Mormon temples and only the images of the Mormon temples.
"In December 2011, Ms. Schleicher called Mr. Knudson into her office to give Mr. Knudson advice and recommendations on how to succeed in his career and 'fit in' on Tybee Island. Ms. Schleicher then informed Mr. Knudson that she knew that he was a Mormon and that he did not drink, despite Mr. Knudson never having communicated such information to her. Ms. Schleicher proceeded to insist that Mr. Knudson needed to be seen sitting at the bar at night at Huckapoos, a local bar and restaurant. She further stated that residents wanted to see Mr. Knudson at the Episcopal Church and that it would be better for Mr. Knudson to attend that church than to go to the Mormon Church. Ms. Schleicher went on to discuss her own family and the long time it took for her to make compromises in order for her son's born-again Christian wife to 'fit in' with her husband's family.
"Ms. Schleicher further insisted that Mr. Knudson should join the American Legion and described a card game played there called 'Screw Your Neighbor.' She told Mr. Knudson to take his kids and play Bingo, a gambling game, on Friday nights at the American Legion. Mormons do not play cards and they do not gamble.
"In December, Ms. Schleicher came to Mr. Knudson to inform him that she was buying alcohol for certain employees as gifts for Christmas and inquired of Mr. Knudson whether he would accept the gift. Upon expressing his gratitude and saying that he would accept the gift on behalf of his family, Ms. Schleicher inquired further, 'but you're not going to drink it?' Mr. Knudson informed her that he would not be drinking it.
"In January, at the conclusion of a meeting with Ms. Schleicher, a city employee informed Mr. Knudson that two Mormon missionaries were at City Hall asking for him. It was not a planned visit and the individuals were unknown to Mr. Knudson. While meeting with the missionaries, Ms. Schleicher came to Mr. Knudson's office. She was very angry. Ms. Schleicher stated to the missionaries that they should not go to the south end of the island because 'they will get you drunk and throw you into the water and you know you are not supposed to do that.' Mormon theology calls on its church members not to drink and not to swim. One of the missionaries commented to Mr. Knudson that he hoped Mr. Knudson would not get fired as a result of their visit.
"Less than a week after the visit of the Mormon missionaries, Ms. Schleicher decided to terminate Mr. Knudson's employment, concluding that he was not the right 'fit' for the job."
Knudson claims the city never gave him a legitimate reason for firing him, and replaced him with a less qualified, non-Mormon employee.
He seeks an injunction, back pay, and compensatory and punitive damages for civil rights violations.
He is represented by S. Wesley Woolf.