Ninth Circuit Rejects Religious Bias Claim Against VA

PASADENA, Calif. (CN) — The Ninth Circuit has thrown out the claims of a chaplain who accused the Department of Veterans Affairs of firing her because of her conservative Christian views.

Carmen Blair sued the department in 2013 for religious discrimination after it ended her short stint as a part-time chaplain for its Los Angeles hospice unit to support dying patients and their families.

Blair claimed that a social worker falsely accused her of making anti-Semitic remarks, and that another manager reported that she had called non-Christian beliefs “demonic” and “evil.”

Blair says the department transferred to a West Los Angeles facility and fired her within three months of her late-2006 hiring. She said the VA dismissed her because it believed she could not minister to patients of other faiths.

“Blair’s termination was the direct result of discriminatory and biased attitudes on the part of her treatment team towards her, as a conservative, Charismatic Christian, having nothing to do with her ability to perform her job,” according to the federal complaint she filed in 2013.

Veterans Affairs said Blair was fired because she could not work effectively with members of the hospice unit team and failed to fill out patient charts correctly.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder granted summary judgment to the VA, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed Tuesday in an unpublished opinion.

The three-judge panel pointed out that another chaplain had hired Blair, knew that she was Christian, and applying for the job of “Protestant chaplain.”

“The very basis upon which Blair claims she was discriminated against — her Christian faith — was a prerequisite for her initial employment,” the unsigned opinion states.

Blair failed to demonstrate that the department had fired her based on her religion, and it offered examples of deficiencies in her work, the court found.

“To the extent that Blair claims that the VA impermissibly created a ‘secular’ work environment, she is unable to show that the department acted out of animus toward her religion,” the opinion states.

U.S. Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Jacqueline Nguyen heard the case with U.S. District Judge David Ezra, sitting by designation from Hawaii.

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