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Friday, July 18, 2014

What Does It Mean Now That My Employer Has A Religion?

Or, Crazy Stuff The Supreme Court Did While I Was On Vacation

So there I am in California, land of actual employee rights, when I see the Supremes ruled on a case involving Hobby Lobby.  As I'm reading the opinion, I'm thinking maybe I just have vacation brain. I can't be reading this right. Then I look to see what Justice Ginsberg said in the dissent and I realized I wasn't misreading the opinion. Here's what she said about it:

In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Hm. What does this mean? A corporation can have a religion now? Yep. Although this decision was about closely held corporations (think family-owned), the Court didn't limit the decision in any way. They left open the possibility that larger corporations can now find religion.

This case was about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which included corporations in the definition of a "person," so maybe it was just a congressional screw-up. The Court said that a company with owners that had a sincerely-held religious belief that life begins at conception didn't have to provide health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Although Justice Alito said in the majority opinion that the government has a compelling interest in providing equal opportunity in the workforce regarding race, he failed to mention, for instance, gender. He certainly didn't mention any compelling interest in preventing sexual orientation discrimination, which may be what this is really about.

The Hobby Lobby case didn't address the gender discrimination involved in denying coverage for contraception, but you can bet there will be a case filed against them soon for sex discrimination on this very issue. And the female employees should probably win it.

I think there will be quite a few unintended consequences of this decision. Here are some things we don't know:

  • Can a Christian Science-owned corporation refuse to provide coverage altogether?
  • Can a Rastafarian-owned corporation refuse to provide coverage for employees who aren't using medical marijuana?
  • Can an ethical vegan-owned corporation refuse to provide coverage for carnivores?
  • Can a corporation refuse to hire women because of a sincere belief that women belong in the home?
  • Can a corporation refuse to promote women because of a sincere belief that women should be subordinate to men?
  • If a corporation holds the religious beliefs of its owners, does that make it easier to pierce the corporate veil and prove the company and owners are one and the same?
  • Did the Supreme Court just approve the use of Sharia law by Muslim-owned corporations?
  • How long will it be before corporation-persons demand the right to vote?

I guess we'll soon see all of these issues litigated in a courthouse free-for-all that will be terrible for everyone but the lawyers.

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.