Friday, December 10, 2010

Religion in the workplace

A friend of a friend, Dr. Martin Gaskell, was discriminated against in the hiring process, and a lawsuit has ensued.  I've only heard one side of the story, but that side is very clear and seems air-tight.

Here is the trial notebook of the American Center for Law and Justice, containing their notes and views on the trial.  The judge's findings in the preliminary hearing were very enlightening:
  • The record contains “substantial evidence that Gaskell was a leading candidate for the position until the issue of his religion” became part of the search committee’s deliberations.
  • The head of the search committee wrote in an email to the Chair of the Physics & Astronomy Department that “no objective observer could possibly believe that we excluded Martin [Gaskell] on any basis other than religious . . .”
  • The Department Chair admitted “that the debate generated by Gaskell’s website and his religious beliefs was an ‘element’ in the decision not to hire Gaskell.”
  • One member of the search committee admitted that Gaskell’s “views of religious things” were “a factor” in his decision not to support Gaskell’s candidacy.
  • Another member of the committee, having discovered Gaskell’s website, warned fellow committee members that Gaskell was “potentially evangelical.”
  • The search committee head, anticipating a decision against Gaskell by his fellow committee members, wrote that “Other reasons will be given for the choice . . . but the real reason we will not offer him the job is because of his religious beliefs in matters that are unrelated to astronomy or to any of the other duties specified for this position.”
Here is the article that got Dr. Gaskell into trouble.  I've read the article, and he is clearly not a kook of any variety.  Some rumors have started, which say that Dr. Gaskell is a "young Earth creationist."  Anyone who repeats that has clearly not read the article.

Based upon our common friend and that article I assume that Dr. Gaskell is evangelical--meaning that he will share and defend his faith, rather than avoiding those types of conversations.  But that is not a crime, and cannot be considered in the hiring decision.

I know some Christians who are obnoxious in the way that they constantly talk about God and turn every conversation into a religious discourse.  Three altar calls a day, in the office, is just annoying.  That's not religion, it's inability to focus on work.  If a person had that sort of reputation, or if they tried to lead me in the sinner's prayer during the interview, then I wouldn't hire them either.

I'm not sure exactly what Dr. Gaskell is hoping to get from this suit.  I can't imagine he wants the job, and they probably already hired someone else anyway.  He will probably get some money.  But he will also get the reputation of a person who sues people who don't hire him.  That's going to make it harder for him to get a job elsewhere.

The university will certainly learn a lesson.  If nothing else they will learn to not leave a paper trail when they discriminate against a candidate.  I doubt that they will actually learn tolerance and good judgement--those sorts of things are not learned by losing lawsuits.

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