Ruling revives lawsuit claiming religious discrimination

A federal appeals court has overturned a judge's decision to dismiss the lawsuit of a woman who alleged she was forced to quit her job at the University of Chicago Hospitals because of her religious beliefs.

The decision, issued Wednesday by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, means that Victoria Leyva can go forward with her lawsuit.
In the ruling, the panel held that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, representing Leyva, sufficiently showed that Leyva was forced to quit because religious discrimination had created intolerable working conditions.

The decision reverses a ruling in 2000 by U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning, who threw out the lawsuit, saying Leyva's resignation was voluntary.

Leyva, an Evangelical Christian Baptist, worked as a recruiter at the hospitals' employment department in the early 1990s.

In her lawsuit, Leyva alleges that her job evaluations were positive until the hospitals hired a new director of human services, Jo Ann Shaw.

According to the lawsuit, Shaw directed other employees to order Leyva to remove religious items from her desk, ordered her and others to stop recruiting at churches and fired Leyva's immediate supervisor for not firing her.

Leyva alleges that while on vacation she was called by a supervisor asking for help finding paperwork on Leyva's desk. But Leyva was unable to help.

The lawsuit alleges she quit when she returned to work and found that her belongings had been packed into storage boxes.

"We were saying they were making it clear to her they wanted her to leave and if she didn't, they were going to fire her," said Ethan Cohen, an EEOC attorney handling the case.

The appeals court agreed, saying in its opinion that the EEOC "has sufficiently demonstrated that a reasonable employee standing in Leyva's shoes would have believed that had she not resigned, she would have been terminated."

Leyva was pleased with the decision. "Although it was painful at times, traumatic at times, the truth prevailed and the system worked," she said.

John Easton, a spokesman for the hospitals, said officials there were disappointed with the decision but "confident that we will prevail if the case goes to trial."