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Firing employees for hosting a pandemic Christmas party was not religious discrimination, court finds


In December 2020, two employees of a home health care company decided to host a Christmas party. About three weeks after the event, the employees were fired.

The employer said that the workers had violated company directives and exhibited poor judgement by hosting a gathering during the pandemic because it exposed attendees to COVID-19.

The employees sued in state court in October 2021, alleging the company discriminated against them because they are Christian and chose to express their beliefs by hosting a religious party. The suit was moved to a federal district court, and the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint alleging discrimination based on exercising their First Amendment rights and retaliation for exercising those rights.

The district court granted the employer’s motion to dismiss the complaint. On appeal, the 6th Circuit upheld the dismissal. It noted that the plaintiffs were the only two attendees at the holiday party to be terminated even though other employees attended. This fact “undermines the plaintiffs’ assertion that religion was a motivating factor” in the company’s decision, according to the court.

The plaintiffs’ other claims were similarly dismissed, including allegations that the termination was in retaliation for the employees exercising their protected rights.

Key to remember: A terminated employee may attempt to challenge the termination under anti-discrimination laws. The allegation of wrongdoing must be supported by evidence for it to merit a court's favor. An employer's best defense is to have clear workplace policies in place, document that a termination was done according to those policies, and be able to show that policies have been consistently applied.

Dahlquist v. Amedisys Inc., 6th Cir., No. 22-5154 (Oct. 7, 2022)