Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found for the plaintiff in a somewhat unusual claim of “reverse” religious discrimination. In Noyes v. Kelly Services, the plaintiff alleged that she was passed over for promotion because she was not a member of a small religious group of which her supervisor was a member. She alleged that her supervisor repeatedly favored over her employees who were also members of this religious group. The plaintiff alleged that she complained to her employer about this behavior, but no action was taken. In response, the employer claimed that the promotion decision was not made by the supervisor alone, but was the consensus decision of a management team, including non-members of the religious group.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court, ordering a jury trial on the plaintiff’s discrimination claims. The court concluded that the plaintiff had introduced adequate evidence of pretext on the part of the employer by demonstrating other circumstances where members of the religious group had been apparently favored in management decisions. She also introduced evidence showing that the chosen candidate may not have been the best qualified person for the position. The employer’s major mistake in this matter was its failure to investigate the plaintiff’s allegations of reverse religious discrimination early in the process. By discounting these allegations, the employer missed an opportunity to avert litigation over the final promotion decision.