Catholic Woman Fights Back Against Health Center for Firing Her for Not Teaching Contraception

By Dustin Siggins Published on December 21, 2016

A Catholic health educator has filed a complaint with the federal government accusing a Houston health center of violating her religious freedom. Alexia Palma claims that Legacy Community Health, an inner city clinic in Houston, fired her for refusing to teach contraception.

According to a complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by First Liberty on December 21, Palma had negotiated an agreement with her superiors to show a video to low-income area students rather than provide her endorsement by teaching how to use contraceptives. Approximately 18 months later, in June 2016, new management required Palma to teach about contraception use.

According to the complaint, Palma reminded the Vice President of the Public Health Department, Amy Leonard, of the agreement. She noted that teaching contraception took up less than two percent of her job. She also said another educator had volunteered to teach that portion of the program.

However, according to e-mails and verbal conversations cited in the complaint, Palma was ordered to “put aside” her “personal beliefs.” The company refused to let her show the video or to let other teachers take the class, though several had volunteered. When she refused, she was fired, after one of her superiors disparaged her Catholic beliefs about contraception.

A spokesperson for Legacy disputed Palma’s claims in a statement provided to The Stream and other press outlets.

“Legacy’s mission is to serve the health care needs of our community, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay and without judgment,” said Senior Director of Communications Kevin Nix. “We also respect and value diversity in our staff, which extends to matters of faith. We dispute the allegations made in the EEOC filing by Karen Palma and are reviewing her personnel file.”

Legacy provides the full range of contraceptives, but according to Nix in an e-mail to The Stream, “does not provide abortions.” Women are referred to Planned Parenthood, which according to Palma’s complaint partnered with Legacy for a class on contraceptives.

Her Faith Came First

“Since I grew up in an unstable home, the only real home I’ve ever had is the church,” Palma told The Stream. “It helped me learn the God created me with a purpose and that he loves me. I will always put Him first. How could I do anything less?”

Palma’s attorney, First Liberty senior counsel Jeremy Dys, told The Stream that Legacy Community acted both illegally and irrationally. “When a good employee asks for her employer to accommodate her religious beliefs at work, that employer shouldn’t fire her. They should follow the law and accommodate her.”

Dys called Legacy Community Health’s action “a violation of federal law” and “blatant religious discrimination.”

“Working at this job, where I could serve those in my community, didn’t feel like a job,” Palma said, according to First Liberty’s site. “It felt like I was working in ministry helping those in need. I felt like I was making a difference in this world and serving Christ at the same time.”

Explaining why she was willing to lose her job rather than teach contraception, she said, “I really loved my job and my patients, but I couldn’t do what the company was asking. Through my difficult childhood of abuse and abandonment, God has always been faithful to me, so I must be faithful to him. My faith comes first.”

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