Vague doctrine at for-profit company? Tennessean nails key issue in new Ramsey lawsuit

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Get ready for more stories in which religious believers clash with the increasingly woke doctrines proclaimed, and enforced, by the Human Resource personnel in modern corporations.

Can your company fire you for declining to use a colleague’s preferred pronouns? What happens if (a) someone declines to remove a study Bible from his or her desk or (b) some believers refuse to hang LGBTQ+ rainbow solidarity posters in their offices? What if an employee marches in a right-to-life parade? Battles continue, in some workplaces, over crosses, beards, headwear and other religious symbols.

That’s one side of the HR culture wars. Meanwhile, it’s clear — pending the outcome of the Equality Bill debates — that faith-defined nonprofits have the right to create lifestyle and doctrinal covenants for the people who chose to sign them and, thus, work in these ministries.

But what about for-profit companies led by executives who want to maintain faith-friendly images? What are the limits on their policies?

For example, Hobby Lobby won its U.S. Supreme Court case after rejecting the Obamacare requirement that contraceptives be included in employee benefits packages. But what if for-profit company leaders said that, for faith-based reasons, they could investigate and fire employees who USED contraceptives?

This brings us to another fascinating dispute inside the Ramsey Solutions empire. The Tennessean headline asks: “Can you be fired over your sex life? Dave Ramsey thinks so.” Here is the overture:

While a former employee has accused Ramsey Solutions of terminating her because of her pregnancy, the company disputes the claim. Company lawyers said in court filings the employee was fired for premarital sex and so were a dozen other employees. 

Former administrative assistant Caitlin O’Connor, who was employed by Ramsey Solutions for over four years and never disciplined, said when she announced she was pregnant in June and requested paperwork for maternity leave, she was terminated for her pregnancy since she isn’t legally married to her longtime partner, the baby’s father. 

Lawyers for Ramsey Solutions, owned by Dave Ramsey — a conservative financial titan who made headlines when he hosted a giant Christmas party during the pandemic and refused to let his employees work from home — said O’Connor wasn’t fired because she was pregnant. She was terminated for having premarital sex.

News consumers here in Tennessee will not be surprised by the hostile tone in this piece, in light of this news organization’s long history of progressive activism. (I’ll always remember my job interview there in the early 1980s, when editors — over and over — stressed their desire to cover evangelical scandals. I went to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.)

However, the facts in this story are presented clearly and, as in the past, members of the Ramsey team do not go out of their way to cooperate with the media.

The bottom line: The Tennessean team, eventually, noted the importance of this case focusing on the work of a for-profit company with a Christian “brand,” as opposed to it being a nonprofit ministry or parachurch group.

For example, Ramsey leader said O’Connor violated one of their 14 core values — “righteous living.” The Tennessean notes that the company doesn’t provide a clear list of rules about what this means.

If that last fact is inaccurate, then Ramsey officials really needed to clear that up.

This brings us to some crucial material based on quotes from law professor Jennifer Bennett Shinall of nearby Vanderbilt University.

First, there is a summary of the nonprofit landscape:

Shinall pointed to a case from 1980 involving Crystal Chambers, a 22-year-old paid mentor at the Omaha Girls Club, a nonprofit organization geared toward underserved and at-risk girls. An important belief of the club was that teenage pregnancy created burdens for young women and limited their life choices. 

When Chambers, who wasn’t married, announced she was pregnant after the organization made a rule about not employing people who were pregnant and unmarried or who caused an unwed pregnancy, she was terminated. The court ruled that the nonprofit was within its right to terminate Chambers since preventing pregnancy was a fundamental tenet of the organization, which had multiple programs related to pregnancy prevention. 

But that is not what this story is about. Read this next chunk of material carefully:

“… A nonprofit that focuses on serving at-risk girls and preventing teen pregnancy is much different than a multi-million dollar financial company that doles out money advice with no focus on pregnancy prevention, Shinall said. And while the company says it has Christian values, that doesn’t mean it qualifies for exemptions that a church or church-run school would be eligible for. 

“Typically they have to be more explicitly religious than Dave Ramsey,” she said. 

Ramsey Solutions’ handbook spells out that the company’s image is Christian, according to court documents.

“Should a team member engage in behavior not consistent with traditional Judeo-Christian values or teaching, it would damage the image and the value of our good will and our brand,” the handbook states. “If this should occur, the team member would be subject to review, probation, or termination.”

What kinds of behavior? The lack of clear language in an employee handbook is crucial.

Before we move on, I do think editors will want to repair this next passage. I think a crucial word or two is missing in this paraphrase:

O’Connor, who is a Christian, doesn’t believe premarital sex is a requirement of her faith, the lawsuit states. She believes though that Christianity should not “be punitive, hateful, vengeful, or judgmental.” Nor does she believe her faith gives her a right to invade people’s private lives. 

I would think that the lawsuit states that she “doesn’t believe that AVOIDING premarital sex is a requirement of her faith.”

Now, if you want to see coverage of this complicated case that misses the crucial for-profit vs. nonprofit angle, check out this story from NBC News: “Dave Ramsey’s company fires employees over premarital sex, court documents say.”

When making a religious-liberty claim, it really does matter if religious doctrines are clearly stated and linked to an organization’s work and mission. The religious “brand” of a for-profit company, backed with evolving laws that are not in a covenant, is something else altogether.

Read the following passage from the NBC report with that in mind:

Ramsey Solutions said in a March 8 court filing that it has fired at least eight employees for engaging in premarital sex in the past five years in addition to O’Connor, and most of them were “not pregnant” at the time; five of them were men, the company said.

The company said that it “does not maintain an exhaustive list of conduct that can lead to employee discipline because it is neither practical nor required,” but over time “specific rules have developed” to address employee conduct.

“One is that Defendant does not allow employees to engage in premarital sex,” the company said.

Stay tuned. This case may be settled at a higher court (or behind closed doors).

FIRST IMAGE: Uncredited photo illustration from Role Reboot website.

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