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More Anti-Catholic Bigotry In Health Care

May 28, 2018 Frontpage No Comments

By MIKE MANNO

Well, the latest in the culture wars pitting secular employers refusing religious accommodations for Catholic employees comes from Saginaw, Mich., where a licensed clinical social worker claims she was harassed and fired for referring a same-sex couple seeking marriage counseling to another therapist.
The counselor, Kathleen Lorentzen, a devout Catholic, worked at a facility called HealthSource Saginaw. According to her federal lawsuit, she had over 20 years of experience providing psychological counseling and had worked for HealthSource since 2011, until she was fired in 2017, as an outpatient behavioral therapist. During her tenure at HealthSource she never had any performance issues and never received any form of reprimand.
Last summer, a same-sex couple seeking marriage therapy was referred to her. She met with the couple twice but felt that her religious objection to same-sex marriage would not allow her to comfortably continue couples counseling with the pair. She then asked her supervisor to reassign the matter to another counselor, citing her religious beliefs.
That started events in which Lorentzen claimed she was verbally, physically, and emotionally harassed by her supervisors who discriminated against her due to her Catholic faith.
The harassment came in the form of physical intimidation, elbowing, leaning into her, and having a door slammed in her face, according to the petition filed on her behalf by the Thomas More Law Center based in Ann Arbor, Mich. She also claimed that in a meeting with her two supervisors she was told she should be “a social worker first and a Catholic second.”
In that meeting, while trying to explain her Catholic beliefs by referring to the views of certain members of the clergy, she was told, “They are just priests.”
The lawsuit contains nine counts including: Disparate treatment, hostile work environment, denial of religious accommodation, retaliation, and four state and common law claims including tortious interference with her practice by the disruption of the relationships she had with existing patients.
Under the law, employers are required to provide religious accommodations when it is possible to employees who request them. There are two basic requirements: Is the belief religious? And is it sincerely held? If the answer to both is “yes,” an accommodation is warranted.
She is asking for both compensatory and punitive damages against HealthSource as well as back pay, past and future medical expenses, and help for mental and emotional distress. And, of course, legal fees and expenses.
While on the surface it would appear that Lorentzen has a strong case if she can prove the elements, these cases often are resolved in the employer’s favor. But while there is a mixed bag of results, these types of cases, where the employer — or in some cases the school — refuses to make accommodations for Christian or Catholic individuals, are mushrooming. For example:
In 2011 a student at Missouri State University, Andrew Cash, was dismissed from his master’s program in counseling for much the same reason Lorentzen lost her job — he was unwilling to counsel same-sex couples. The university then agreed to pay Cash $25,000, the estimated cost for him to complete his master’s degree from “an Evangelical or other university.”
Julea Ward, in 2009, was a counseling student at Eastern Michigan University. During her practicum she indicated she could not counsel homosexual couples. Ward’s supervisor then explained to her that she needed to abide by the university’s counseling guidelines and the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics which states that “counselors may not discriminate against clients on the basis of age, culture, disability, ethnicity, race, religion/spirituality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status/partnership, language preference, socioeconomic status, or any basis proscribed by law.”
When she refused to set aside her personal beliefs and values she was dismissed from the program. The resulting lawsuit resulted in the university settling the case for $75,000.
Marcia Walden was a counselor at the Centers for Disease Control where she referred a same-sex couple to a colleague. She was then suspended and later fired in 2007. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the Centers for Disease Control. It said that Walden failed to establish a cause for religious discrimination and that her free exercise rights were not “substantially burdened” when she was dismissed.
And in 2008 a relationship counselor, Gary McFarlane, refused to provide sex therapy for a same-sex couple. Relate, a national counseling service, fired McFarlane and his claim against the employer was later dismissed.
A number of these types of cases involve abortion and hospital personnel who refuse to assist in the procedure. Catherina Cenzon-DeCarlo was a practicing Catholic and a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. She had an agreement with the hospital that she would not be required to assist with an abortion. One day, ignoring that agreement, the hospital ordered her to assist in a second-trimester abortion, claiming it was an emergency (it was not). She was told that if she did not she would be fired for insubordination and patient abandonment, the latter could result in the loss of her license.
After complying and suffering mental issues afterward, she, naturally, sued. The court dismissed her claim; it held that the federal law enacted to protect health-care workers from being forced to take actions that they found morally objectionable did not provide for an individual right to action. Thus she had no standing to sue and the case was dismissed.
In 2015 Nurse Sandra Rojas was told by the Winnebago County (Illinois) public health department to either “refer for abortion or quit.” This was after the state made major changes in the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, forcing even pro-life medical professionals to refer patients for abortion and counsel about the undefined “benefits” of abortion.
In February a judge tossed out the governmental immunity claim made by the county. The case is now ready for trial. The judge also granted a preliminary injunction to protect Rojas and other medical professionals from the state’s attempt to force them into making direct abortion referrals.
In 2011 twelve nurses sued the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey for forcing them to assist during abortions. The case was settled and the nurses got to keep their jobs. The judge warned the hospital that the nurses can return to the court if the hospital penalizes them, assigns them to work abortion cases, or pretextually attempts to require them to assist with abortions.
As you can see from this sampling, cases like Kathleen Lorentzen’s can become somewhat of a crap shoot. We’ll follow it and hopefully it will become a precedent favoring religious accommodations. Stay tuned.

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