Court Battles

Supreme Court declines to hear discrimination case involving Christian legal group

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a discrimination case involving a lawyer who was denied a job opportunity with a Christian legal clinic because of his sexual orientation.

While the justices decided not to review a lower court decision allowing the lawsuit to move forward, Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion indicating that the conservative wing may be eager to take it up down the road.

“The Washington Supreme Court’s decision may warrant our review in the future, but threshold issues would make it difficult for us to review this case in this posture,” Alito wrote in his opinion, which was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Alito said that the case may be more suitable for Supreme Court review when there’s a final decision from the Washington state courts.

Matthew Woods, a Seattle-area lawyer who applied for a job at the Union Gospel Mission legal clinic in 2016, sued the organization after being told that he was ineligible for employment because he identified as bisexual. 

A state court judge initially dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the religious organization was exempt from Washington’s anti-discrimination laws, but the state Supreme Court reversed the ruling and allowed the case to move forward.

Denise Diskin, Woods’s attorney, vowed on Monday to continue the legal challenge in the hopes of fighting the mission’s hiring practices.

“Discrimination does not belong in social services, and we are excited to begin the process of confirming that LGBTQ+ people are just as qualified as anyone else to provide support and help to vulnerable people in their communities,” Diskin said in a statement.

John Bursch, a lawyer with the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom who’s representing the Seattle organization, applauded Alito’s opinion as an endorsement of the group’s religious freedom arguments.

“Courts have consistently recognized that a religious organization’s purpose will be undermined if the government forces it to hire those who do not share and live out the group’s beliefs,” Bursch said in an emailed statement.

Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a separate case involving a Colorado wedding website designer who is refusing to take on work for LGBT couples. That case will be heard in the term starting in the fall. 

–Updated at 1:14 p.m.

Tags Clarence Thomas Samuel Alito

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