Myrick v. Warren
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Religious liberty and LGBT rights don’t have to be in conflict. No one knows that better than Gayle Myrick.
Targeted for her religious beliefs
Gayle Myrick was a highly qualified and well-respected magistrate in North Carolina for many years. As a magistrate she issued warrants, set bail, handled traffic fines, and—on rare occasions—performed wedding ceremonies.
Gayle loved helping others and treating everyone fairly. She always received top performance reviews and positive feedback. When same-sex marriage became legal, Gayle didn’t want to stop anyone from getting married. But she also knew that her religious beliefs prevented her from performing a same-sex wedding ceremony.
Since handling weddings was such a small portion of her work, Gayle’s immediate supervisor proposed a solution—simply shift Gayle’s schedule by a couple hours so that she was not on duty when the county offered weddings. The government frequently offered similar scheduling accommodations to other magistrates for a variety of reasons, from simple things like going fishing to larger issues like night classes or even drug rehab.
This was a reasonable solution: Every couple would still get married without any delay or embarrassment, and Gayle would get to keep her job.
Unfortunately, the state government rejected this solution and made clear Gayle had to choose: her faith or her job. Gayle was forced to resign, which meant she lost her retirement and the job she loved.
Becket defends dignity in our diverse society
With the help of Becket and North Carolina attorney Ellis Boyle, Gayle filed a claim of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under a federal civil rights law that protects government workers. In a landmark ruling, a federal judge said that the government broke the law when it refused to let her Gayle shift her schedule, especially since other magistrates were allowed to shift their schedules all the time. The government also acknowledged it had treated Gayle unfairly, and it agreed to pay a substantial amount to make her whole and give back the pay and retirement benefits that were unjustly taken from her. The state later passed a law making sure no magistrates would be targeted for their religious beliefs and no one would be denied a prompt marriage.
Faith and sexual orientation are deeply important to the identity of many people, and this case shows that these two things don’t have to be at odds with each other. From a Jewish worker’s need to keep the Sabbath, to a Muslim employee’s need to engage in daily prayer, there are thousands of examples of reasonable solutions in the workplace that protect the dignity of everyone. Our civil rights laws help us create a society where people with diverse views can live alongside each other without conflict.