ACLJ files religious discrimination suit against Ca. health agency over “morning after” pill

News Release

American Center for Law and Justice

(Riverside, CA) – The American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm, today filed suit in U.S. District Court in Riverside, California on behalf of a health care worker charging that she was fired from her job as a nurse for Riverside County, California after she refused to dispense medication known as a “morning-after” pill designed to end  pregnancies.

“This case centers on the rights of our  client to hold religious beliefs and have those beliefs accommodated by her  employer,” said Frank Manion, Senior Regional Counsel of the ACLJ who is representing the nurse. “Our client did not want to dispense medication that she believes places her in a position to participate in an abortion. It is our position that her deeply held religious beliefs were ignored by her employer and it is our belief that she was wrongly fired because of those beliefs.”

The ACLJ filed suit today in U.S. District Court in Riverside on behalf of Michelle Diaz, who worked as a Clinic Health Nurse at the Riverside Neighborhood Health Center. The complaint contends that in March 1999, Diaz and other health professionals expressed their concerns to management about dispensing the so-called “morning-after” pill – medication designed to end pregnancies.  The lawsuit states that Diaz told her supervisor that her deeply held religious beliefs prevented her from distributing the medication because she believed she would be participating in an abortion.

The complaint contends that the Director of Public Health for Riverside County informed her that if she did not sign a document that required her to dispense what the county called “emergency contraception” which included the “morning-after” pill and other pregnancy-ending medications, she  would no longer be able to work at the clinic. Diaz did not sign the document and wrote a letter to the Director of Public Health explaining that her religious beliefs prevented her from doing so.

According to the suit, in June 1999, Diaz was contacted by news reporters concerning the “morning-after” pill controversy and explained her position to the media. The suit contends that on June 23, 1999 – just days after speaking with the media – she was told that she was being terminated.

“This case may represent a new kind of religious discrimination in the workplace as health care professionals strive to follow their consciences as they begin dispensing new pregnancy-ending drugs like RU-486,” said Manion. “A person’s religious beliefs must be respected and accommodated in the workplace. To do anything less is simply wrong and unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit contends that the action taken against Diaz violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution along with provisions in the California Constitution. The complaint contends the County violated her constitutional rights of free speech and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by refusing to accommodate her religious beliefs and terminating her employment.

At the same time, the suit contends that Diaz has suffered and continues to suffer financial loss from the termination and damage to her  professional reputation. The suit requests that the court find the actions of the defendants illegal and unconstitutional and requests unspecified damages. The suit also requests a trial by jury.

The suit names as defendants the County of Riverside Health Services Agency, Kenneth Cohen, the Director of the Agency, and Dr. Gary Feldman, who serves as Director of Public Health and as the Public Health Officer for Riverside County.

The ACLJ is being assisted in this case by Robert Tyler of the firm, Tyler, Dorsa & Eldridge in Temecula, CA.

The American Center for Law and Justice is an  international public interest law firm that specializes in constitutional law and focuses on pro-life, pro-family, and pro-liberty issues. The ACLJ is headquartered in Virginia Beach, VA.