By Thaddeus M. Baklinski
SANDUSKY, Ohio, November 2, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A lawsuit filed earlier this year by a school nurse presents the compelling question of the line between religious accommodation and retaliation against an employee because of her religious beliefs.
Maria T. Sulewski filed suit against the Erie County General Health District, health commissioner Peter Schade, and two supervisors, claiming that her change in job assignments was retaliation for her refusing to conduct a presentation “supporting birth control, safe sex or related matters” to fifth- and sixth-grade students because of her religious beliefs as a Catholic.
Schade said that Sulewski’s job reassignment was an accommodation so she would not have to deal with making sex-education presentations and “really had nothing to do with discrimination on our part.’‘
Sulewski’s job description includes “promoting public health, including diagnosis, counseling and education.” It does not list sex education as a specific job duty.
One of Sulewski’s lawyers, Patrick J. Perotti, contended that Sulewski received further punishment after she sued.
“In response to our filing a suit, they instructed her she was terminated as a school nurse and ordered her to report as a home health nurse,” Perotti said in a report by the Sandusky Register.
Sulewski and Perotti asked for her to return to her prior work schedule, but the health officials declined to renew her previous assignment, according to the report.
In her suit, Sulewski asked for reinstatement to her former position with back wages, damages, attorney fees and a one-time training session on religious accommodation for district staff.
The county’s health board approved a $12,500 settlement on Tuesday. Sulewski received $5,000, with $7,500 going for her legal expenses, and was given her school nurse job back. In return, Sulewski dismissed her lawsuit and promised not to pursue any other claims against the health department, who maintain there was no wrong-doing and that the payment was not an admission of liability, but “solely paid to preclude additional litigation expenses.”