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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  • Paul Burgett

    Alexia if you read this, i want to affirm you that you are indeed the salt and light of God in your line of work, and able to touch many hearts in their need. The thing about salt and light, is that sometimes the salt causes a reaction, and the light reveals things that were hiding in the darkness. So even now you continue to be the salt and light in the earth, giving glory to God and encouraging your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Be blessed and Merry Christmas! God will provide.

  • galatians328

    It is challenging puzzle for workplaces. ISN’T IT!?

    Here are to cases:

    e.g. If I worker has a faith belief founded upon Leviticus 15 that

    19 “Whenever a woman has her menstrual period, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. Anyone who touches her during that time will be unclean until evening.

    20 Anything on which the woman lies or sits during the time of her period will be unclean.

    22 If you touch any object she has sat on, you must wash your clothes and bathe yourself in water, and you will remain unclean until evening.

    WOULD/SHOULD we expect the worker’s supervisor to re-make the team assignments everytime a co-worker in in her menstrual period?

    THIS would cost the company considerable time and money wouldn’t it? But surely, based on the tone of the article, WE SHOULD DEMAND that the workplace respect the worker’s faith beliefs and practice.

    Correct?

    Here’s another case:

    e.g. WHAT IF a customer – in the salon, in the clinic, in the clothing shop, etc – asks not to be touched by a women in her menstrual period? WOULD/SHOULD we expect the business to respect that customer’s faith belief and practice?

    THIS will cost small businesses considerable time and money wouldn’t it? But surely, based on the tone of the article, WE SHOULD DEMAND that all small businesses – however SMALL and STRUGGLING – respect that customer’s faith belief and practice?

    Correct?

    • Dan M

      Here is another “what if”. What if you addressed the actual situation instead of one you made up?

      • galatians328

        Easy! The person should not have been fired. Another employee could have taught that component. Easy. The person should be re-instated with an accommodating plan.

        And, any employee who asks not to be on a team with a woman in her menstrual period – to avoid touching her, or touching any thing she she had sat upon – should be accommodated. We thought that THAT was obvious!

        Belief about contraception should not be treated as a uniquely or especially protected faith belief. Every employee in a workplace may have beliefs to be accommodated. Even small businesses might need to hire a ‘religious accommodation specialist’: that would create lots of new jobs! YAY!

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