SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Sacred Heart-Griffin, a private Roman Catholic school, acknowledged on Tuesday afternoon that it revoked a job offer from a women because of her sexual orientation.
Lauren White, a 23-year-old Jacksonville resident and recent graduate of Illinois College, posted her story to Facebook on Monday night and told WCIA she has filed a discrimination complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights after she was offered a job to teach French, and then she was abruptly informed she would no longer be welcome to do the job.
“I was told that I interviewed very well, and that I was their number one choice,” White wrote. “The principal was ‘thrilled’ when I accepted the offer,” she said.
A letter from the school’s president Katherine O’Connor confirmed the accuracy of White’s account and acknowledged they rejected her for the job specifically because of her sexual orientation.
“The interview went very well and the job was offered,” Sister O’Connor wrote in a letter to parents and students. “In the process of signing the contract, it was discovered that the candidate has a fiancé of the same sex. In keeping with Roman Catholic teaching on same sex marriage, we were unable to complete the hiring process.”
White is engaged to be married. She and other family members and friends expressed frustration with the state law that allows religious organizations to deny them employment due to their sexual orientation.
“The crazy thing is that as soon as this happened I reached out to some family and close friends to discuss the situation and their gut reactions were all that this is illegal,” White wrote on Facebook. “The unfortunate truth is, it’s not. According to the Illinois Human Rights Act, employers of religious affiliation of any recognized denomination can discriminate against ANYONE (not just LGBT+ individuals) and face zero consequences.”
In fact, the Illinois Human Rights Act does include discrimination exemptions for private religious institutions, effectively allowing them to hire, fire, or reject candidates or employees based upon their sexual orientation.
State Representative Anna Moeller, an Elgin Democrat who sponsored the new law to require public schools to teach LGBT history, explained the intricacies in the law.
“Under the Illinois Human Rights Act sexual orientation is a protected class and employers can not discriminate based on sexual orientation,” Moeller told WCIA in an email. “However, there is an exemption for places of worship including religious educational institutions. This situation poses interesting questions as to whether the teaching position she was offered would fall under that exemption.”
Moeller argued the law should be refined or interpreted more narrowly “to provide for freedom of religious worship, but not to allow discrimination for positions that are secular in nature or that do not include direct religious worship or practices,” she said.
White described the exemptions as “a ridiculous amount of power our government have given particularly to Christian organizations.”
State Representative Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago Democrat, said on Tuesday that “it is critical that we have strong protections in the law so that we guard against this kind of discrimination in the public sphere. And, while a religious entity can set their own rules for this sort of hiring and firing — students have lost in this instance. Everyone appears to agree that this candidate was the best choice for the students at the school. Should she be turned away simply because of who she is?”
Cassidy said it is not immediately clear to her if the law will or should be changed.
In a statement, Illinois Department of Human Rights spokesman Mo Green said, “The Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) prohibits discrimination in Illinois with respect to employment, financial credit, public accommodations, housing, and sexual harassment in education. These protections extend to a number of protected classes, including sexual orientation. The Illinois Department of Human Rights has a thorough and neutral investigatory process to determine if and when discrimination occurred.”
Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office said in a statement, “The Governor believes that no employer should take any action against an employee or prospective employee because of the person’s sexual orientation. The administration is deeply committed to making sure Illinois is a place where the LGBTQ community can live, work and thrive.”