Andrea Nead, a nurse employed by Eastern Illinois University, was interviewed for a promotion for which there were two openings. One of three questions she was asked was whether she was willing to dispense emergency contraception, i.e., the "morning-after pill." Nead responded that she was opposed to emergency contraception because she believed it was a form of abortion, and it violated her religious beliefs.
Nead was not offered the promotion, but was told that another candidate who had not objected to dispensing contraceptives was hired for one of the positions. Nead sued Eastern Illinois University for religious bias in violation of Title VII, and for violation of the freedom of religion, free speech and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
In denying the university's motion to dismiss three of her claims, the U.S. Central District Court of Illinois found sufficient evidence to support Nead's claims for freedom of religion and equal protection violations. With regard to her Title VII claims, the district court found that "Nead alleges she is a member of a religious group that prohibits its adherents from participating in any form of abortion," and that she was qualified for the position she applied for.
However, the court did dismiss Nead's claims based on free speech because she spoke out against abortion for the purpose of furthering her own interests and not a more public interest. Nead v. Bd. of Trustees of E. Ill. Univ., CD Ill., No. 05-2137 (6/6/06).
Impact: Employers are advised that employees' sincerely held religious beliefs require reasonable accommodation if possible.