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Thorson v. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

October 19, 2004

SARA THORSON, APPELLANT,
v.
BILLY GRAHAM EVANGELISTIC ASSOCIATION, RESPONDENT.



Hennepin County District Court File No. 03-12062.

Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Wright, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Under Minn. Stat. § 363A.26 (Supp. 2003), a nonprofit religious association whose business activities are exclusively evangelical and entirely related to the religious purpose for which it is organized is exempt from the Minnesota Human Rights Act's prohibition against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wright, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

Appellant brought an employment-discrimination action under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), alleging that respondent terminated her employment on the basis of her sexual orientation. The district court granted respondent's motion for summary judgment, finding respondent exempt from the sexual-orientation provisions of the MHRA because it is a nonprofit religious association not engaged in a secular business activity. We affirm.

FACTS

Respondent Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) promotes Christianity through a combination of live events, productions for film and television, and publication of books, pamphlets, and magazines. Its employees are required to profess Christianity and participate in devotional activities.

Appellant Sarah Thorson is a professed Christian who has worked at BGEA since June 1971. She started as a mailroom clerk and has continued in mailroom functions over the course of her career. In one position, as a night supervisor, she led other employees in prayer during meetings. Thorson's most recent position was as a bulk-mail services coordinator, in which she prepared mail and reported shipping for various BGEA departments. Her responsibilities have never involved development or production of evangelical media.

In February 2002, two employees reported seeing Thorson kissing another woman in the parking lot at work. At a meeting on February 21, 2002, two supervisors confronted Thorson with the allegations. Thorson admitted that she is a lesbian. One of her supervisors advised that, unless Thorson reconsidered her "lifestyle," she would be terminated.

Following the meeting, Thorson was placed on leave. Thorson sent a letter to BGEA on March 7, 2002, asserting that her sexual orientation did not affect her employment and requesting that she be allowed to continue working for BGEA. BGEA did not respond to this request. Based on a determination that Thorson's sexual orientation was inconsistent with BGEA's mission, BGEA terminated Thorson's employment on June 24, 2002.

Thorson brought a lawsuit against BGEA, claiming that BGEA had discriminated against her on the basis of sexual orientation, in violation of the MHRA, Minn. Stat. ยง 363A.08, subds. 2 (barring discharge of employee because of sexual orientation), 4 (barring employer from requesting that employee furnish information as to sexual orientation) (Supp. 2003). BGEA moved for summary judgment, contending that it was exempt from the ...


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