According to Baylor University’s health care guidelines, an employee’s spouse cannot be added as a dependent unless the spouse is the opposite sex. Christina Cannady | photographer
By Emily Cousins | Employed author
According to Baylor University’s health care guidelines, an employee’s spouse can only be added as a dependent if the spouse is the opposite sex.
The university’s health insurance policy defines an eligible spouse who can be added as a dependent as “your spouse of the opposite sex to whom you are legally married”.
Baylor’s recruiting policy does not specifically state that they will not recruit anyone who is in a same-sex marriage. All job postings and advertisements contain the following statement:
“Baylor is a Baptist university affiliated with the Texas Baptist General Convention. As a positive action / equal opportunity employer, Baylor encourages minorities, women, veterans and people with disabilities to apply. “
A gay employee who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of intimidation said the health insurance policy was exclusive and had no place in a Christian university.
“This insurance problem is no secret. It’s pretty far out, and I’m concerned that LGBTQ students will look at that and say, “Nothing has changed,” the source said. “My question is with marriage equality, is this insurance policy legal?”
Since Baylor is a private body, it is not subject to constitutional law. However, Baylor must comply with the law. This includes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, religion, gender, and national origin.”
The Supreme Court decided last summer to define more clearly what gender discrimination involves. In this case, Bostock v Clayton County, Georgia, Supreme Court 6-3 ruled that Title VII sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and transgender status.
“The message of the law for our cases is just as simple and meaningful: A person’s homosexuality or transgender status are not relevant to employment decisions,” Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority. “That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person as gay or transgender without discriminating against that person on the basis of their gender.”
Judge Samuel Alito was one of three judges who voted against the Supreme Court’s decision to broaden the interpretation of gender discrimination. In Alito’s dissent he wrote that this judgment was not a victory for “individual freedom”.
“As the briefing warned in these cases, the position the Court is now taking will endanger freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and privacy and security,” Alito wrote.
Alito also wrote that based on this new interpretation, courts may not allow religious institutions to discriminate based on sexual orientation or transgender status.
“The provisions of Title VII provide exemptions for certain religious organizations and schools in relation to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work related to the pursuit of the activities of the organization or school … but the scope of provisions are controversial and offer, as interpreted by some lower courts, only a narrow protection, ”wrote Alito.
As a religious institution, Baylor has certain exceptions to Title VII.
“Title VII allows religious organizations to give preference to members of their own religion,” said the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on its website. “The exception only applies to those institutions whose purpose and character are primarily religious.”
The EEOC also outlines in “Section 2: Threshold Problems” of its Compliance Handbook, which provides guidelines for interpreting and enforcing federal law when religious exceptions may and may not occur.
“The exemption applies to all positions; However, discrimination is only allowed on religious grounds, ”said the EEOC. “In addition, the exemption only applies to recruitment and layoffs and not to conditions or privileges of employment, such as wages or benefits.”
Baylor also reiterates on his website that he will be closely following Title VII.
“Baylor is committed to complying with all applicable anti-discrimination laws, including those relating to age, race, color, gender, national origin, marital status, pregnancy status, military service, genetic information and disability,” says Baylor on its website. “As a religious educational institution, Baylor is legally permitted to use an applicant’s religion as a selection criterion. Baylor encourages women, minority groups, veterans and people with disabilities to apply. “
Baylor declined interview requests for a university representative and the Office of General Counsel. They sent the following statement in response:
“The University’s policies, procedures and plans are designed to comply with the University’s obligations to its staff and students under all applicable federal, state and local laws and are interpreted in a manner consistent with Baylor’s religious freedoms . As a religiously controlled college, Baylor is exempt from complying with select provisions of certain civil rights laws, and Baylor is also exempt from prohibitions against discrimination based on religion. “
“As such, the university prescribes standards of personal conduct consistent with its religious mission and values, and legitimately takes into account a person’s religion and conduct in an employment context. Baylor’s policy of sexual behavior is interpreted in a manner consistent with Baptist belief and message. This consideration also affects the eligibility for benefits. Accordingly, unemployment benefits are only granted to an otherwise qualified person of the opposite sex to whom an employee is legally married in the union of a man and a woman. “
Although Baylor did not allow the Lariat to speak to the General Counsel, he suggested Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO and Chief Counsel of the First Liberty Institute, as a source because of his experience in defending religious freedom.
Shackelford was not available for an interview, but he sent the following statement in response:
“There is almost nothing more sacred than the right of a religious organization like Baylor to order its organization, benefits, and requirements according to its religious beliefs, including its biblical definition of family and marriage,” wrote Shackelford. “Government interference in such matters is prohibited by both constitution and federal law. Baylor has every right to make his own religious choices and is protected in doing so. Should the government ever attempt to violate Baylor’s religious freedom, we would like to represent it for free. “
However, attorney Paul Carlos Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, said the health insurance policy denying workers the ability to add a same-sex spouse as a dependent is illegal under Title VII, even in a religious establishment.
“The only way it becomes excusable is if there is some kind of ministerial exception,” Southwick said.
Southwick said that some religious high schools or elementary schools have employees who are considered ministers by the court and are then exempt from Title VII. This would include facilities such as Catholic schools where nuns give students their daily classes.
“However, if they are not considered ministers, Title VII applies to Baylor. According to the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling, Baylor’s policies are illegal. If someone is an employee who is the soccer coach, for example, and they have married someone of the same sex, or are janitor, or work in the cafeteria, and they are denied spousal benefits because their partner is same-sex, that is illegal, and they are can sue Baylor. “
At the Massachusetts court hearing, Margaret Deweese-Boyd v Gordon College, the plaintiff, a social work professor, said she was denied term because of her LGBTQ advocacy and criticism of Christian College’s policies regarding the LGBTQ community.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that Gordon College is a religious institution, but the plaintiff is not a minister, which means she does not fall under the ministerial exemption.
The anonymous source employed by Baylor said that discrimination at the university is not widespread among faculties, staff or students. Instead, the source said it came from upper management.
“Change is difficult for some people,” said the source. “Change is very, very difficult; especially if that change will challenge a long-held tenet in your belief system. “
The source also said that there are other Christian universities, like Notre Dame University and Texas Christian University, that are proving that Christian values can be upheld while also engaging the LGBTQ community.
Both Notre Dame University and Texas Christian University have information about diversity and inclusivity on their websites that includes “sexual orientation” when mentioning minority groups. These universities also have official LGBTQ student organizations in their locations.
“I think we are on our way there and both the student senate and the faculty senate say yes to the LGBTQ student group charter,” the anonymous source said. “That is a big step in the right direction. There is a tremendous amount of alumni support for this and I think a path has been paved for that change. Everyone in Baylor still needs to feel welcome. “
Three other LGBTQ workers in Baylor were interviewed, including those with same-sex spouses. However, they said they declined an interview due to privacy concerns and fears that the university might find out about their marital status.
Non-LGBTQ workers either did not respond or refused to be put on the file because they feared the consequences of speaking.