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Religious Businesses Shielded From LGBT Bias Claims, Judge Rules

Oct. 31, 2021, 5:23 PM

For-profit businesses can be shielded from LGBT discrimination liability based on sincerely held religious beliefs, a federal judge in Texas ruled Sunday, addressing several legal questions left open after the U.S. Supreme Court granted anti-bias protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Braidwood Management Inc., which operates Christian health-care businesses controlled by Dr. Stephen Hotze, can avoid Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s LGBT anti-bias prohibitions under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth held.

Separately, Bear Creek Bible Church and other religious nonprofits can escape liability for firing, refusing to hire, or taking other adverse job actions against LGBT workers under Title VII’s religious exemptions, O’Connor said.

The ruling comes in a lawsuit that Braidwood and Bear Creek filed against the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, seeking carve outs to Title VII following the Supreme Court’s landmark 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, GA, which expanded civil rights protections for LGBT workers. The justices left unaddressed the scope of religious defenses to workplace discrimination liability.

For years, legal clashes between religious rights and anti-bias laws have raged in employment and public accommodations cases, as well as on Washington’s Capitol Hill where a comprehensive LGBT rights bill known as the Equality Act awaits Senate consideration.

O’Connor also ruled that workplace policies regarding sexual conduct, dress codes, and restrooms don’t violate Title VII. But he said the federal law can cover policies regarding bisexual conduct, “sex-reassignment surgery,” and hormone treatment.

Mitchell Law PLLC and the Fillmore Law Firm LLP represent Braidwood and Bear Creek. The Justice Department represents EEOC.

The case is Bear Creek Bible Mgmt. v. EEOC, N.D. Tex., No. 4:18-cv-00824, opinion 10/31/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erin Mulvaney in Washington at emulvaney@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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