CASPER — The Wyoming Rescue Mission is suing federal and state equal employment agencies after being threatened with penalties for refusing to hire a non-Christian employee.
The Rescue Mission operates a homeless shelter, meal service, recovery program and two thrift stores in the Casper area.
In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, the organization alleges that the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services and Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are preventing them from hiring vacancies out of fear. to violate the law.
The complaint comes after a candidate was not hired for a clerk position at the Rescued Treasures thrift store in 2020 after saying she was not a Christian, according to court documents.
The organization is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a national conservative Christian coalition of lawyers. The coalition represents the Mission on a pro bono basis, Arizona-based lead attorney Jeremiah Galus said.
ADF also recently decided to join an ongoing lawsuit regarding Wyoming’s abortion ban, in an effort to make more arguments against providers who say the ban is too vague and may delay or refuse prenatal care.
The job candidate who filed the original complaint in October 2020 allegedly did not provide an interviewer with the name of a church she attended or a ‘spiritual reference’, which the organization would ask of all candidates .
According to the complaint, the Mission hired a “co-religionist,” or someone with the same Christian beliefs, instead.
Now, the Rescue Mission is asking a federal judge to rule that it has the constitutional right to hire exclusively Christians who share the organization’s beliefs.
“The Wyoming Rescue Mission should not sit idle and be under the threat of a substantial fine and penalty and not know what it can and cannot do,” Galus said.
Job offers for state employees of Rescue Mission must be a person of “strong faith”.
Federal and state policies state that employers cannot discriminate against potential hires on the basis of religion or “creed,” in the state of Wyoming.
A lawyer for Rescue Mission said that since it is a religious organization, it is exempt from these policies.
But according to court documents, the DWS told the Mission that these exemptions only applied to “ministerial” employees who lead worship or conduct religious ceremonies.
“We view every ministry position as, I mean, serving the Lord,” executive director Brad Hopkins said. “There’s no less value to someone if they preach a message from a pulpit or, you know, fix a leaky plumbing problem.”
After being denied the job, the candidate filed a discrimination complaint with the DWS and the EEOC, the federal agency that enforces employment equity laws.
After a nine-month investigation, according to court documents, the DWS concluded that the Mission discriminated against the plaintiff and “committed a violation of state and federal law.”
DWS also proposed that the Rescue Mission pay the plaintiff more than $3,000 in back wages and stop hiring on the basis of religion.
When the Mission refused this arrangement, the complaint was sent to the federal agency.
The EEOC, after its own investigation, also reportedly concluded that the Mission was not covered by these exemptions and likely discriminated against the plaintiff.
Job postings for rescue mission vacancies have not been allowed on the DWS website since 2019, after the department said it would not list jobs requiring certain religious beliefs.
The Mission also alleged in court filings that the investigations also prevented it from taking disciplinary action against a current employee “who openly disagreed with the Mission’s beliefs”.
Hopkins said that to his knowledge, this is the first formal complaint of religious discrimination filed against the Mission.
The Wyoming Rescue Mission is central Wyoming’s main homeless shelter.
The services of the association are strongly influenced by its Christian values. Its addiction treatment program uses a “Bible-based” 12-step program, according to the Mission’s website. Clients participate in a series of educational classes and volunteer work, in addition to receiving drug treatment, Christian counseling and case management services.
Annual contributions to the organization have more than doubled over the past decade.
Before 2016, the Mission raised less than $2 million in donations each year, according to a nonprofit database run by ProPublica. Since 2017, the organization has reported contributions between $3.4 million and $4.4 million per year.
In August, the Mission opened a new $3.3 million center on its Casper campus for its addiction treatment program. This was the second phase of a multi-year campaign to develop the organization and its services.