News Xtra: ACLU forges ahead in discrimination case

Jul 22, 2008 at 9:11 pm

It’s been a decade since a government-funded group home fired a Louisville woman for being gay, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to file suit on her behalf. And although a federal judge dismissed the case earlier this year, the ACLU isn’t ready to call it quits.

The ACLU filed a brief last week with the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, urging the court to allow the discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Alicia Pedreira to go forward. 

In 1998, Pedreira lost her job as a counselor for Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, a publicly funded facility where she worked with behavior-disordered boys. Despite being praised for her work, Pedreria was fired after higher-ups learned she is a lesbian.

“I put my heart and soul into helping the children who were under the care of Baptist Homes and was making a difference,” Pedreira said in a statement released in conjunction with last week’s brief. “It was unfair to be fired for being a lesbian. It’s not right that an organization that is funded by state and federal dollars to do work for the state can get away with this.”

U.S. District Judge Charles R. Simpson III dismissed the case in March, writing in his opinion that “civil rights statutes protect religious freedom, not personal lifestyle choices.” The Republican-appointed Louisville judge further stated that although Kentucky Baptist Homes expects employees to behave in accordance with certain values, there’s no requirement to practice a particular faith.

Not surprisingly, ACLU officials disagree with the ruling, saying it’s based on legal technicalities.

In its latest brief, the ACLU blasts Baptist Homes, arguing: “Baptist Homes uses its public funding to indoctrinate youths — who are wards of the state — in its religious views, coerce them to take part in religious activity, and convert them to its version of Christianity, and does so in part by requiring its employees to reflect its religious beliefs in their behavior.”

It could be several months before the appeals court decides whether to reverse the lower-court’s ruling and allow the case to proceed.