A doctor who also is a minister with his church has accused officials with the Georgia Department of Health of religious discrimination in a document filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The Liberty Institute and Parks, Chesin & Walbert, who are representing Dr. Eric Walsh, said Tuesday they filed the official charge over a job offer from the state agency in May, which Walsh accepted.
But then state officials withdrew the offer, allegedly because of controversy over Walsh’s faith, and joked about it on a telephone call that inadvertently was captured by an answering machine.
That phone call was from Dr. Patrick O’Neal and Kate Pfirman, the CFO at the Georgia agency.
O’Neal said in the message to Walsh that a letter was being sent to him.
But a conversation between the two was also on the recording, and Pfirman said if she got any more phone calls from Walsh, she would let O’Neal know.
Regarding the letter, she said: “And I’m gonna be very – I’m gonna try to come off as very cold, because I don’t want to say very much. If I try to make it warm – I’ve thought that through – it’s gonna just not – there’s no warm way to say it anyway.”
Then there was laughter from both parties.
O’Neal then said to inform Walsh, “You’re out,” and there was another round of laughter.
“It’s very funny,” Pfirman said.
“No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs,” said Andrew Coffman, partner in the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert and a Liberty Institute volunteer attorney. “In America, it is against the law to fire an employee for expressing his religious beliefs – especially when that expression takes place at church. This kind of religious intolerance by an employer has no place in today’s workforce.”
Walsh, who holds both a medical degree and a Ph.D., also serves as a lay minister with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the complaint explains.
He had accepted the Georgia position, and his hiring had been publicly announced when “top officials” apparently were targeted by a campaign from activists to injure Walsh, with statements about his faith and statements he has made in church, the legal team said.
They explain Walsh “was eminently qualified to lead the Georgia Department of Health, but has now been effectively blacklisted by the Georgia Department of Health because of religious messages he gave as a lay minister.”
The complaint explains that Walsh had been involved in a controversy over his faith when he was targeted by “California activists” who were unhappy he had been asked to speak at graduation for Pasadena City College.
“A mean-spirited campaign that intentionally twisted Dr. Walsh’s religious beliefs ultimately resulted in his decision to not speak, as well as his forced resignation as the director of public health for the City of Pasadena,” the legal team said.
“This kind of intolerance has no place in today’s workforce,” said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for Liberty Institute. “People of faith ought to be respected at work, not fired for expressing their religious beliefs at church.”
Liberty Institute said the EEOC will investigate and ultimately determine whether there was religious discrimination.
Documentation accompanying the complaint confirmed the $150,000-a-year job offer, a planned “background check” and the subsequent withdrawal of the offer.
The complaint contends the only issue was Walsh’s statements about faith. It includes a copy of a newspaper article that cited his “recorded sermons online” that referenced “homosexuals, Muslims, Catholics, popular culture icons and other groups.”
“After gathering information about my religious expressions, the state of Georgia withdrew its offer and terminated me because of my religious beliefs,” Walsh wrote.
“The ‘recent issues’ referred to in the state’s media statements are my speeches and sermons – specifically, the ones that led to my ouster as commencement speaker as Pasadena City College, suspension by the city of Pasadena, and forced resignation from my role as public health officer for the city of Pasadena.
“My religious statements were specifically targeted for review, and, by the state’s own public admission, are why it terminated me,” he said.