A lawsuit alleges the Duke University Health System tried to force a Catholic nurse to help carry out abortions.
The case, filed by the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan, on behalf of Sara Pedro, alleges Duke discriminated against and retaliated against the Catholic emergency-department nurse because of her pro-life religious beliefs.
“This case illustrates the unfortunate dangers faced today by individuals who seek to remain faithful to their religious beliefs in the workplace,” said Thomas More lawyer Tyler Brooks.
“With this lawsuit, however, we intend to show that even very large employers must respect the civil rights of their Christian employees.”
The case was brought in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
Pedro’s lawyers document her unblemished eight-year record before being hired by Duke.
It was during an orientation at Duke, to which she moved from her previous job in New York, that the attacks began, the complaint states.
“During a classroom orientation, a group of newly hired nurses that included Ms. Pedro was told by a nursing supervisor that Duke categorically refuses to grant religious accommodations for emergency department employees who object to assisting in abortions,” the legal team says.
But the refusal to accommodate her violates several federal and state laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Labor Standards Act, North Carolina’s Wage and Hour Act and North Carolina common law, says the complaint.
Her subsequent requests for accommodations triggered “acts of retaliation,” including refusing to advance her from training status to regular duty, issuing her warnings for “vague and unsubstantiated reasons” and finally placing her on administrative leave, the case explains.
“In her complaint, Ms. Pedro alleges that Duke sought to force her out of her job rather than accommodate her religious beliefs as required by Title VII,” the legal team explained in an announcement about the case.
“At its heart, this case presents a simple yet important question: Must a devout Catholic abandon fundamental tenets of her faith if she wishes to be employed as a nurse at Duke University Hospital? Despite the fact that defendant Duke has answered ‘yes’ to this question, federal and state civil rights laws say otherwise. Therefore, Plaintiff Sara Theresa Pedro brings this action to vindicate her rights under the law. An employee does not forfeit her right to practice her religion and abide by the tenets of her faith when she enters the workplace,” the complaint opens.
The filing says the retaliation even triggered health problems for Pedro, eventually forcing her out of work.
“As a direct and proximate result of defendant Duke’s negligence, Ms. Pedro has in fact sustained severe emotional distress and mental anguish, entitling her to an award of compensatory damages, including past and future loss of income, compensation for benefits under the Nurse Loan Forgiveness Program, and past and future medical and counseling expenses.”
Duke officials declined to respond to a WND request for comment.
Among the counts are both negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, unlawful termination and constructive discharge, religious discrimination and creating a hostile work place.
The hospital even is accused of trying to engage in discussions with her, apart from her lawyer, after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued her a letter of a right to sue and she obtained legal counsel.
Duke “lacked any justification” but nevertheless “discrimination against Ms. Pedro on the basis of her religion in numerous specific ways, including but not limited to the following: (1) its failure to promote Ms. Pedro from ‘orientation’ to regular status and denying Ms. Pedro a clinical ladder promotion; (2) its repeated disciplining of Ms. Pedro, wrongfully and without basis, in ways that would negatively affect her professional standing (both with defendant Duke and generally) and her licensure; (3) its denial and interference in myriad ways with Ms. Pedtro’s receipt of income and fringe benefits, including insurance, from defendant Duke; (4) its placing Ms. Pedro on administrative leave and later compelling her to take an unpaid personal leave of absence for medical reasons.”
She’s now on a personal leave for medical reasons “as a result of injuries defendant Duke caused,” the complaint notes.
“As part of the exercise of her Catholic faith, Ms. Pedro strives to follow the Ten Commandments, which forbid – among other sins – murder,” her lawyers explain.
According to her faith, she “cannot participate in the taking of innocent, unborn human life through complicity with or participation in abortion.”