(CN) – A Georgia hospital did not discriminate against a supervisor it demoted for allegedly badgering an openly gay nurse, telling the woman she lived “in sin,” a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Hugh Lawson in Valdosta, Ga., said he disagreed with Pamela Hall’s claim that the Tift County Hospital Authority and two directors “punished her for following a brand of Christianity they found unacceptable.”
Hall sued the Tift Regional Medical Center operator and two directors in 2012, claiming she was demoted after passing Amanda Dix a Christian-themed pamphlet and email on homosexuality.
Hall was hired by the hospital in 2006, and worked as a charge nurse and a relief nursing supervisor.
She met Dix, a staff nurse, in 2006, and the pair “were social friends and their families even vacationed together,” according to the ruling.
But in 2009, their relationship soured after Hall accused Dix of having an affair with her husband.
Dix then revealed to Hall that she was a lesbian. Hall told Dix that she could not be a part of Dix’s lifestyle. They talked about trying to rekindle their friendship, but the damage had been done.
Hall, a Baptist, allegedly stuck a pamphlet entitled “How Should Christians Respond to ‘Gay’ Marriage?” in Dix’s work locker in 2011.
Hall included a note saying she “felt led” to give the pamphlet to Dix, the ruling states.
“Because Dix had said she was a Christian, plaintiff felt a duty to tell her that, based on Christian teachings, the practice of homosexuality was a mistake and would harm Dix.”
Dix was offended by the pamphlet, but allegedly told a manager she “was okay and would handle” the situation.
The prodding did not stop, however.
Via email, Hall allegedly told Dix: “I would hope that someone would hold me accountable for when I’m not in the right walk with God. I actually wish that someone would have sat me down long ago and really opened my eyes to the way I was living. It was not pleasing to God. What feels good and what makes us happy is not always the right thing to do. Sodomy is a sin, gay people live in sin. It is not about self gratification. I have true joy that can only come from being in God’s grace. We will all die. We will stand before the Lord and he will hold us accountable for lack of witnessing and other sins. I won’t harp on this issue but I will pray for you still and myself because I love you and I want you to be there with me in heaven.”
Dix forwarded the email to her supervisors and, after an investigation, Hall was removed from supervisor duties, placed on six months probation and barred from sharing personal beliefs that coworkers consider discriminatory.
She filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011, and a federal lawsuit the following year.
Judge Lawson found that Hall failed to establish a direct evidence case of disparate treatment, a prima facie case of religious discrimination or an equal protection violation.
“The court is most certainly aware that homosexuality and gay marriage have public concern implications,” Lawson wrote. “But in this case, plaintiff’s motivation was not to bring these issues to the public’s attention. Instead, plaintiff was proselytizing to a former friend in a private manner.”
Lawson also ruled against Hall’s free speech and religious freedom claims, granting the hospital summary judgment on all claims.
“The question before the court is whether plaintiff has adduced evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that her ability to practice her religion was substantially burdened,” Lawson added. “The court finds that she has not. Any burden on plaintiff’s right to freely exercise her religion was imposed by the implementation of a neutral policy of general applicability and therefore does not infringe upon the First Amendment. The court disagrees with plaintiff’s contention that defendants punished her for following a brand of Christianity they found unacceptable. The evidence simply does not support that proposition.”
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