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Court Sides with Nursing Home That Fired Worker for Refusing to Pray

August 19, 2014

A Mississippi nursing home did not violate the religious rights of an activities aide by firing her for refusing to pray with a resident, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on August 8.

In September 2009, the aide, Kelsey Nobach, declined a resident’s request to pray the rosary with her. Five days later, Nobach’s employer, Woodland Village Nursing Center, fired her for insubordination.

After her supervisor told Nobach that she was fired, Nobach informed her that praying is against her religion. Nobach is reportedly a former Jehovah’s Witness who still adheres to many tenets of that faith, including the avoidance of repetitive prayers.

According to testimony, the supervisor responded, “I don’t care if it is against your religion or not. If you don’t do it, it’s insubordination.”

Nobach sued, and in October 2012, a lower court ruled that Woodland had fired her because of her religious beliefs — which, according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is illegal. The court awarded her approximately $70,000 in damages and lost back pay.

But Woodland appealed to the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court, which determined that the nursing facility could not have fired Nobach for her beliefs, since Woodland administrators were not aware of those beliefs until after they fired her.

“We simply cannot find evidence that Nobach ever advised anyone involved in her discharge that praying the rosary was against her religion” prior to her termination, wrote Fifth Circuit judge E. Grady Jolly in the court’s decision.

— by Matthew Ozga

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