The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Thursday over whether Hallmark Companies discriminated against a Christian couple when it fired them.
Daniel and Sharon Dixon were managing an apartment complex in Lake City, Fla., but were fired after their supervisor told them they were "too religious."
The supervisor made the conclusion based on one stained glass artwork with flowers that contained the phrase "Consider the lilies ... Matthew 6:28."
"The artwork was displayed in the leasing office, right next to prominent disclaimers that Hallmark does not discriminate in housing decisions against anyone," Horatio G. Mihet, Senior Litigation Counsel with Liberty Counsel, explained. "They did not have a cross or a Bible or any other religious item in the office."
The Dixons, who are committed Christians, had only been working at the apartment complex for a month in 2007 but they had worked for Hallmark Companies on a prior occasion for a couple of years, managing two different complexes. And the 26 inches by 50 inches artwork was displayed at all of the offices they worked at without any complaints, Mihet said.
The couple was also living at the Lake City complex – Thornwood Terrace – which receives federal funds to subsidize rent of low-income residents, as part of their compensation.
There, the couple's supervisor, Christina Saunders, made a number of office visits and later asked them if the stained glass artwork referred to Scripture. After Sharon Dixon confirmed that it did, the supervisor asked her to remove it immediately.
Hoping to bring her husband into the discussion, Sharon left to find him and when they returned, Saunders had removed the art piece and told them they were fired for being "too religious." They were also told to vacate the building within 72 hours.
The Dixons filed suit in June 2008, charging Hallmark with religious discrimination. Saunders testified that she thought the display containing a biblical reference violated the Fair Housing Act and had a policy that prohibited religious items in the management office. The supervisor maintained that the couple was fired for insubordination because they argued with her and insisted the picture would be rehung and even attempted to rehang it.
Saunders also denied allegations that she told the couple they were "too religious."
A federal district court judge ruled summarily against them, concluding that no reasonable jury could find discrimination on the evidence presented by the Dixons.
Mihet said the judge ruled erroneously.
On Thursday, oral arguments were presented before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where Hallmark is headquartered. Mihet is optimistic.
"Hallmark’s counsel actually admitted during argument that, had Hallmark asked him whether the picture should be removed, he would have advised that it should stay on the wall," he noted to The Christian Post. "We expect that the Court of Appeals will reverse the summary judgment and remand the action back to the district court with instructions to move the case to a jury trial."
Mihet expects that a jury will find that "Hallmark fired the Dixons for being 'too religious' and will give the Dixons justice."