(Photo: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino)
A woman is suing a national Christian ministry nonprofit group for wrongful termination, alleging she was fired from her position in 2011 because she was going through a divorce. The woman, Alyce Conlon, claims that two men at the ministry were allowed to keep their jobs after divorces and subsequent remarriages, but she was fired.
Conlon filed a federal lawsuit for wrongful termination in the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids late last week, alleging that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship [IVCF] wrongfully terminated her after she told her supervisors she and her husband were going through the process of divorce. Conlon had reportedly worked for the nonprofit since the late 1980's, and worked as a spiritual director for the ministry group at its Grand Rapids, Mich. office from 2004 to 2011, where she was then let go. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is a nonprofit national Christian ministry group that establishes student-led ministries at hundreds of college campuses across the country.
According to the lawsuit, Conlon alleges that in 2011, she told one of her supervisors that she and her husband were planning on getting a divorce. She was then reportedly put on paid leave so she could try to reconcile her marriage. During this time, the lawsuit claims that the nonprofit's supervisors became "heavily involved" in Conlon's marriage, including contacting her estranged husband without the plaintiff's knowledge and suggesting she go to the marriage counselor of her husband's choice.
Conlon argues in the lawsuit that although she followed all of the nonprofit's suggestions during her paid leave, including attending counseling sessions, she was ultimately not able to salvage her marriage and was therefore terminated in December 2011. A letter issued to her by Fred Bailey, the regional director of the Great Lakes area, and included in the lawsuit read: "It is with sorrow that we acknowledge that reconciliation has proven unsuccessful. We have not seen enough progress to continue the process any longer. As a result, effective Dec. 15, 2011, your employment with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA will be terminated."
Conlon also argues in the lawsuit that she knows of two men at the nonprofit that were able to proceed with a divorce and remarry while continuing to keep their jobs. In the lawsuit she is seeking lost wages and benefits, as well as compensation for emotional distress.
According to MLive, InterVarsity filed a confidential letter in the lawsuit that says the group's job description clearly encourages employees to seek reconciliation in their marriages. "This belief is in line with […] position descriptions which state that our employees are to be maturing disciples of Christ. When there are significant marital issues, we encourage employees to seek appropriate help to move towards reconciliation," the letter reads.
Although a spokesperson for the IVCF refused to comment on the case, he provided a statement from the organization to Raw Story that said the company, as a religious employer, has the First Amendment right to make hiring decisions using faith-based criteria.
"A vital element of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty is the freedom of religious employers to make hiring decisions through the use of faith-based criteria," the statement said, according to Raw Story. "As a Christian organization, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's credibility and witness depends on its ability to hire and retain personnel who share and abide by InterVarsity's faith commitments. It is deeply regrettable that a former employee has chosen to challenge this key constitutional liberty."