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.”
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.
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.’”
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.”
“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, 2016, 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.”
On May 9, 2017, First Liberty Institute and Alexia reached an amicable settlement with her former employer. “I loved my time with Legacy Community Health Services and appreciate the effort its leadership has invested to positively resolve this situation,” she said.
“Legacy Community Health Services showed leadership by respecting free speech and religious liberty in the resolution of this matter,” added Hiram Sasser, First Liberty Deputy Chief Counsel. “Religious liberty in the workplace is an important issue in our nation today. Companies who find themselves in similar situations should follow Legacy Community Health Services’ good example in resolving these situations in an amicable manner.”
For Immediate Release: May 9, 2017
Contact: Abigail Doty, email@example.com
Cell: 469-237-9102, Direct: 469-440-7598
Legacy Community Health Services Honors the Religious Liberty of Alexia Palma as Both Sides Settle Dispute
May 9, 2017—Today, First Liberty Institute announces that its client, Alexia Palma, and Legacy Community Health Services, have amicably resolved an employment dispute with a confidential settlement. The settlement follows Palma’s termination from Legacy Community Health Services in July of 2016.
Alexia Palma released the following statement upon the resolution of the matter: “I am pleased that we have been able to resolve this matter in a way that is beneficial to all parties involved. I loved my time with Legacy Community Health Services and appreciate the effort its leadership has invested to positively resolve this situation.”
Hiram Sasser, Deputy Chief Counsel of First Liberty Institute and attorney for Alexia Palma said, “Legacy Community Health Services showed leadership by respecting free speech and religious liberty in the resolution of this matter. Our client is very pleased with the outcome and appreciates the manner in which Legacy Community Health Services resolved this dispute. Religious liberty in the workplace is an important issue in our nation today. Companies who find themselves in similar situations should follow Legacy Community Health Services’ good example in resolving these situations in an amicable manner.”
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.
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