First Liberty Attorney: DEI Is No Excuse to Openly Discriminate Against Religious Employees

February 9, 2024
Woke Corps | First Liberty Institute

by Danielle Runyan, First Liberty Senior Counsel • 5 min read

It’s clear that C-suite executives and government leaders are increasingly emboldened by their unabashed adherence to the dangerous idea that “diversity, equity, and inclusion” will enhance the workforce and workplace relations.

But as the smokescreen of this pretextual marketing and political campaign begins to clear, the facts demonstrate that DEI policies are anything but equitable or inclusive.

The grim reality is that these policies are advancing an agenda to excommunicate certain “privileged” classes of citizens from the workplace, to include religious employees, if they do not openly affirm compliance with and commitment to viewpoints that violate their sincerely held beliefs. What’s more, recent cases in federal court prove they are patently illegal.

First Liberty is representing two Alaska Airlines flight attendants fired in 2021 for asking questions in response to the company’s support of the Equality Act. We recently asked a federal court to rule in their lawsuit against the airline.

Complicit in the airline’s termination actions, the Association of Flight Attendants union refused to represent these union members at arbitration. Damaging evidence in Brown v. Alaska Airlines, Inc. recently revealed that one high-level union representative saw one of the flight attendant’s comments and wrote, “Can we PLEASE get someone to shut down comments, or put Marli and Lacey in a burlap bag and drop them in a well . . . She needs to go!”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was one of the greatest achievements of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Congress implemented the statute to protect specific groups that were traditionally discriminated against based on race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Executive Branch capitalized on a politically divisive audience to gain favor among supporters by advertising and promoting incredible inequities among certain protected groups. In the wake of protests, violence, and destruction, President Joe Biden ordered that DEI policies were necessary to retain our Nation’s talent and remove barriers to equal opportunity.

This largely began when the federal government–including the military–and woke corporations expressed open hostility towards those who had religious objections to their vaccine mandates. Despite their best efforts to purge the religious from their ranks, thousands of individuals took a stand in defense of their civil rights.

In the Northern District of Texas in Navy SEALs 1-35 v. Biden, over 4,000 Navy service members maintained their careers when 35 Navy SEALs proudly took a stand after suffering threats and coercion from superiors and peers to either get vaccinated or get fired.

In that same courthouse, thousands of United Airlines employees are waiting to be certified as a class in Sambrano v. United Airlines after CEO Scott Kirby made the calculated, strategic, and universal decision to effectively terminate them for requesting religious accommodations.

Unbelievably, Kirby threatened his employees to “be very careful” about requesting accommodations because they would be “putting their job on the line.” Kirby even proposed requiring accommodated employees to walk around with special stickers on their badges broadcasting their vaccination status, which resulted in one HR employee to comment, “like the scarlet letter…Oh my goodness. Who are we???”

Recognizing the years of damage inflicted on religious employees who sought accommodations, specifically in the corporate workplace, in 2023 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided Groff v. DeJoy, stating that “employers must accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of their employees unless doing so would cause ‘undue hardship,’ substantial increased costs, to the business.”

But now, corporate and government leaders are swapping one illegal position for another by openly diverting to new discriminatory employment practices.

In a recent Axios interview, Kirby announced, “We have committed that 50% of the Aviate Academy classes will be women or people of color.”  While diversity in the truest sense is a wonderful corporate objective, the Supreme Court already determined in Bostock v. Clayton Cnty that it is a clear violation of law to “intentionally set out a rule that makes hiring turn on race or religion.”

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management also announced last year that “using correct names and pronouns helps foster workplaces free of discrimination and harassment.” The March 31, 2023 guidance puts those with religious concerns about pronoun usage on notice that “the isolated and inadvertent use of an incorrect name or pronoun will generally not constitute unlawful harassment, but, continued intentional use of an incorrect name or pronoun could contribute to an unlawful hostile work environment.”

We should applaud the rich diversity that makes our nation and citizenry thrive. Unfortunately, the ulterior motives of woke corporate and government leaders is damaging the American workforce. DEI may sound noble. But make no mistake. The same agenda that promises to increase diversity, equity and inclusion is wreaking havoc—and it’s religious employees who are paying the price when they’re treated like second-class citizens.

Learn More:  

Alaska Airlines Really Dislikes Religious Employees, Court Brief Argues

Major Businesses That Could Cancel You Because of Your Faith

Is “Progressive” H.R. Helping or Harming Religious Freedom in the Workplace?

A Clash Between the Woke Agenda and Religious Freedom is Coming to Your HR Department

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