A Michigan woman sued a campus ministry that she says fired her because of her divorce, even though two male colleagues kept their jobs after getting divorced and remarried.
Alyce Conlon worked as a spiritual director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship from 2004 until December 2011, according to the wrongful-termination suit filed last week in U.S. District Court.
The suit claims Conlon, who’d started working for InterVarsity in 1986, told her supervisor that she and her husband were having marital difficulties and were considering separation or divorce, and she was placed on paid leave so she could focus on her marriage.
Conlon said her supervisor and a regional director for the evangelical ministry became heavily involved in her attempts to reconcile her marriage, contacting her husband without her knowledge and providing him with a “staff only confidential policy.”
She said her supervisor and the regional director also ordered her to see a counselor of her husband’s choice, and although Conlon said she followed all of their directives, her marriage ended in 2011 and she was fired by the end of the year.
“It is with sorrow that we acknowledge that reconciliation has proven unsuccessful,” wrote Fred Bailey, IVCF regional director of the Great Lakes Region. “We have not seen enough progress to continue the process any longer. As a result, effective Dec. 15, 2011, your employment with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA will be terminated.”
Conlon said two men she’d worked with kept their jobs through separation, divorce and remarriage, and she’s seeking lost wages and benefits, in addition to compensation for mental anguish and emotional distress.
A spokesman for InterVarsity declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but he provided a statement from the organization.
“A vital element of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty is the freedom of religious employers to make hiring decisions through the use of faith-based criteria,” the statement said. “As a Christian organization, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s credibility and witness depends on its ability to hire and retain personnel who share and abide by InterVarsity’s faith commitments. It is deeply regrettable that a former employee has chosen to challenge this key constitutional liberty.”
According to the lawsuit, InterVarsity encourages employees to seek appropriate help to move toward reconciliation.
“When dealing with employment issues and divorce, ministry leaders take into consideration who initiated the divorce, the impact on work competency and funding and the effect on colleagues, students, faculty and donors,” the group says, according to the lawsuit.
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