July 1994

Workplace Labor Update - Discharge for Abortion May Be Religious Bias – July 1994

2 min

A federal court in Michigan recently ruled that an employer may have violated federal law prohibiting religious discrimination when it fired a pregnant employee because its Christian staff became upset that she was considering an abortion. Turic v. Holland Hospitality, Inc., 63 FEP Cases 1267 (W.D. Mich. 1994). Kimberly Turic worked at a Holiday Inn restaurant as a table buser. In September 1992, Turic told her manager she was pregnant. An assistant manager asked what she planned to do about the pregnancy, and Turic responded that she had not ruled out abortion. Word spread.

The Hotel had a "very Christian staff" who were "very offended" by the fact that Turic was considering an abortion. The Hotel disciplined Turic for causing a disturbance among the staff by talking about the possibility of an abortion, and warned her that if she spoke about it again, she would be fired. Discussion about Turic's situation continued and, a week later, the Hotel fired her.

Turic filed a religious discrimination lawsuit. The Hotel asked the court to dismiss Turic's claim because she admitted that her consideration of an abortion was not guided by any religious belief, and that the instruction not to discuss abortion at work did not conflict with any of her religious beliefs.

Turic argued that she was fired to protect the religious sensibilities of the Christian staff and, as a result, the Hotel forced its religious views on her. According to Turic, because her views on abortion differed from those of the Christian staff, the Hotel treated her differently from other staff members on the basis of religion.

The court held that if Turic's claim was true, she would prove illegal religious discrimination. Thus, Turic was entitled to a trial on the merit of her claim. The Court also held that Turic could proceed to trial on her claim that the Hotel fired her because of her pregnancy in violation of federal law. Although the issue of abortion invokes strong reactions and has polarized our society, this case demonstrates that employee discipline or dismissal on this basis may violate federal law. Although this decision is not binding on Maryland courts, a similar case was recently filed in Maryland and is winding its way through court.