Monday, April 30, 2007

Federal Government Agrees to Protect Religious Hiring Rights

A Joint Stipulation of Dismissal was filed on Thursday in Geneva College v. Chao (W.D. Pa. Apr. 26, 2006). The U.S. Department of Labor and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry agreed to allow Geneva College, a private Christian school, to use job listing services funded under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The Center sued officials from both departments late last year when Pennsylvania officials insisted that the WIA nondiscrimination provision precluded the state from posting jobs restricted on the basis of religion. Stories regarding the Center's victory can found on AP and Religion Clause.

The U.S. Department of Labor maintained that Pennsylvania misapplied the WIA nondiscrimination provision. The provision, according to the Department, only applies to recipients of WIA funding. Because Geneva does not receive WIA funds, the nondiscrimination provision has no application to the College and Pennsylvania should have permitted Geneva to post its jobs. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry conceded that it misconstrued the nondiscrimination provision and agreed to post Geneva's jobs.

The victory is a narrow one but nevertheless important. Religious employers, like Geneva, are now placed on equal footing with other employers. They both now have the same access to WIA funded services.

The case unfortunately leaves unanswered the question of whether a religious employer receiving WIA funds may discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring. The answer appears to be yes. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which still applies to the federal government, should be read to provide religious employers with an exemption from the WIA nondiscrimination provision.