Zach Stevens, a Physician Assistant in Bremerton, Washington, spent more than a decade providing services and assistance to communities worldwide through medical, educational, and development activities. As a National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program Award recipient and someone motivated by his Christian heritage to serve the underserved, Zach applied to the Washington Department of Corrections, a designated Health Professional Shortage Area, in fulfillment of a scholarship. Officials at the facility described Zach as a “phenomenal fit” for Monroe Correctional Complex (“MCC”) and extended an offer of employment, subject to a routine check of his references, medical license, and other administrative matters.
After he accepted the conditional offer of employment in November of 2019 to be an Advanced Care Practitioner at MCC, the Human Resources Officer at MCC called Zach and asked specifically about his religious beliefs in relation to off-label hormone therapy and invasive medical procedures for transgender inmates. After explaining both his medical and religious objections to the invasive therapies, he asked for a religious accommodation in writing in early December of 2019. Since MCC had other medical professionals on staff who were able to provide the invasive therapies and off-label medications, accommodating Zach’s religious beliefs would have caused no hardship for MCC. Instead, more than two months later, in February of 2020, MCC terminated his employment.
“For my part, I very much want to treat and help transgender patients with their general medical needs,” said Zach. “As these patients are part of an often disenfranchised population, I am eager to provide them competent and quality medical care as a Physician Assistant. I am disappointed that MCC chose to terminate me rather than work together to find a creative means of serving everyone.”
In October 2020, First Liberty filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against the MCC.
“Zach provides medical care for everyone, but he cannot in good conscience personally administer or perform procedures that violate his religious convictions,” said Jeremy Dys, Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications at First Liberty Institute. “Employers can neither ask about your religious beliefs, nor make employment decisions because of them. Zach’s former employer did both.”