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Meet Alexia Palma

Alexia Palma was born in Guatemala. A few months after Alexia’s birth, her mother left her to start a new life in America. Alexia’s grandparents adopted her into their family and baptized her into the Catholic faith. After coming to America when she was five years old, Alexia experienced a difficult childhood marked by abandonment and abuse, but she held fast to her Catholic faith. It sustained her and inspired her to go into the healthcare industry, where she could devote herself to serving others.

Alexia soon became an American citizen, graduated from the University of Houston with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Promotion, and became a health educator. She found a job at Legacy Community Health (LCH), a Houston inner-city clinic, where she served the disadvantaged.

“I emigrated from Guatemala to America as a child,” Alexia said. “Finding this job, where I could serve those in need in accordance with my Catholic faith, was my American dream come true.”

“Working at this job, where I could serve those in my community, didn’t feel like a job,” Alexia explained. “It felt like I was working in ministry helping those in need. I felt like I was making a difference in this world and serving Christ at the same time.”

A Simple Accommodation

As a health educator at LCH, Palma taught many classes, focusing mostly on chronic health issues. One of LCH’s classes in the “Being a Mom” course focused on birth control, including the use of emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and Ella.

Alexia is devoted to the teaching of the Catholic Church, which is morally opposed to birth control because of the belief that all people are created in the image of God. The Church teaches that birth control must not be used to prevent conception or destroy embryonic life and Alexia believes that members of the Catholic Church are not morally permitted to teach about these contraceptive methods.

Caught between her faith and her job, Palma requested a simple religious accommodation – to be able to show a video instead of giving a personal presentation on the topic. Her supervisors agreed, and the arrangement worked well for a year and a half, ensuring Alexia’s religious convictions were respected while allowing LCH to achieve its educational mission, without any hardship to the company.

You Must “Put Aside” Your “Personal Beliefs”

When a new supervisor learned about Palma’s accommodation, she pulled Palma into a meeting with Ms. Amy Leonard, the Vice President of the Public Health Department at LCH, and the human resources director for LCH. There, Ms. Leonard gave Palma an ultimatum: “put aside” her religious beliefs and teach the class or be terminated. (Read emails where Leonard told Palma she must “put aside” her “personal beliefs”)

Alexia produced documentation showing that teaching the birth control class constituted less than 2% of her job. She asked if the company could continue to accommodate her by allowing her to show a video or simply allow another employee to substitute teach the class for her, as other employees had volunteered.

The human resources director listened to Alexia’s explanation and reviewed her employee file and then asked Ms. Leonard, “You can’t accommodate her?” The answer came immediately and emphatically: “No.” Ms. Leonard refused to consider a religious accommodation and said that Alexia had to personally teach the subject or else she would be fired.

“I began to cry,” Alexia says. “I told them, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that. My faith comes first. I really love my job and my patients, but I’m sorry. I can’t do what you are asking me to do.’”

Terminated Over Her Beliefs

Although the management team acknowledged Alexia’s performance was excellent in all other areas, they told her that unless she was willing to personally teach the birth control class, she would be terminated. Because she felt she could not teach the class without violating her faith and LCH refused to accommodate her religious beliefs, she was fired.

“I really loved my job and my patients, but I couldn’t do what the company was asking,” Palma says. “Through my difficult childhood, God has always been faithful to me, so I must be faithful to him. My faith comes first.”

First Liberty Defends Alexia from Religious Discrimination

“The company gave Alexia an ultimatum – violate your faith or be fired,” Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute, says. “That’s a violation of federal law and it’s blatant religious discrimination.”

On December 21, First Liberty Institute filed an official complaint with the EEOC on behalf of Palma, alleging that LCH engaged in religious discrimination when they fired her.

“The Supreme Court has already ruled on this – a company can’t fire a person just because the person needs a simple religious accommodation, especially when it can be provided with no hardship to the company,” Dys says, “No one should be fired over their religious beliefs.”

PRESS RELEASE
December 21, 2016

Contact: Kassie Dulin, kdulin@firstliberty.org
Cell: 214-542-4334, Direct: 972-941-4575

Alexia Palma with her dog, Chiclets. Photo is courtesy of First Liberty Institute.

Alexia Palma with her dog, Chiclets. Photo is courtesy of First Liberty Institute.

(Alexia Palma and her pet Chihuahua, Chiclets. Photo credit: First Liberty Institute. May be republished.
Access full resolution photos at
FirstLiberty.org/Palma under the “Photos” tab)

YOUNG CATHOLIC IMMIGRANT FILES CHARGE ALLEGING RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION

Houston health care company fires Alexia Palma for being unwilling to promote contraception


 Houston, Texas – Today, on behalf of its client, Alexia Palma, First Liberty Institute filed a legal complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging Palma’s former employers, Legacy Community Health (LCH), with religious discrimination. In the complaint, Palma, a young Catholic woman, says that her employers fired her after she requested a simple religious accommodation from a task that constituted less than 2% of her job.

Read the EEOC Charge

Palma worked as a health educator at LCH, a clinic for low-income patients in Houston’s inner city.

“I emigrated from Guatemala to America as a child,” Palma said. “Finding this job, where I could serve those in need in my community, was my American dream come true. ”

As a health educator, Palma taught many classes, but only one conflicted with her religious beliefs: the class on contraception. Because of her Catholic faith, Palma requested a simple religious accommodation – to be able to show a video on birth control instead of personally advocating for contraception. Her supervisors agreed, and the arrangement worked well for a year and a half.

In June 2016, after Palma was placed under new management, she was called into a meeting with company executives. Ms. Amy Leonard, the Vice President of the Public Health Department at LCH, gave Palma an ultimatum – “put aside” her religious beliefs or be terminated.

Palma reminded Ms. Leonard that teaching the birth control class was less than 2% of her job. She requested an accommodation to allow her to continue showing the video or to allow another employee, who had volunteered to teach the class, to substitute teach the class for her. LCH refused her accommodation request and she was terminated.

“I really loved my job and my patients, but I couldn’t do what the company was asking,” Palma says. “Through my difficult childhood of abuse and abandonment, God has always been faithful to me, so I must be faithful to him. My faith comes first.”

“The company gave Alexia an ultimatum – violate your faith or be fired,” Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute, the religious freedom law firm representing Palma, says. “That’s a violation of federal law and it is blatant religious discrimination.”

On December 21, First Liberty Institute filed an official charge with the EEOC on behalf of Palma, alleging that LCH engaged in religious discrimination.

“No one should be fired over their religious beliefs,” Dys says.

Read more and view legal documents at FirstLiberty.org/Palma

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Kassie Dulin, Director of Legal Communications for First Liberty Institute. Email: kdulin@firstliberty.org, Direct: 972-941-9575, Cell: 214-542-4334.

To download the press release, click here.