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Federal Judge Rules World Vision is Liable for Discrimination

In a third round of rulings, judge determines the ministry violated laws in rescinding a job offer.

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After a string of flip-flop rulings, a federal judge has ruled that Christian humanitarian aid organization World Vision is liable for violating laws of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The decision, given on November 28, 2023, says World Vision unjustly discriminated against plaintiff Aubry McMahon by rescinding a job offer after discovering she was in a same-sex marriage.

In a 47-page order, District Judge James Robart ruled that the ministry’s policy, reflecting its sincerely-held religious belief that marriage is a Biblical covenant between a man and a woman, discriminates based on sex, sexual orientation, and marital status in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD).

In January 2021, the document says World Vision sent a formal written offer letter of employment to McMahon for the full-time customer service representative trainee position. McMahon said the ministry rescinded her offer after she disclosed that she and her wife were having a baby and asked whether she qualified for time off as a new employee.

In the document, World Vision claims that if McMahon had been employed, her actions would have contradicted the ministry’s rules of behavior, which restrict sexual activity to the union of one man and one woman in marriage.

World Vision said to be eligible for employment, all individuals are responsible for agreeing with its core religious principles, and staff members are given a handbook with related guidelines.

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The lawsuit is one of the first following the 2020 US Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the court decided Title VII applies to gender identity and sexual orientation.

Title VII allows religious employers to hire based on their beliefs, and federal courts have also established the ministerial exception, which protects religious groups against legal actions related to the employment and dismissal of religious leaders.

Robart had first ruled in favor of World Vision in June 2023, siding with World Vision and agreeing that the church autonomy doctrine precluded involvement in employment decisions made by the ministry. This idea, stemming from the First Amendment, ensures that courts do not second-guess or interfere with the internal governance of churches or ministries.

However, in July 2023—six weeks later—Robart changed his stance, backing McMahon and dismissing all of the ministry’s defenses. The ruling concluded that none of World Vision’s remaining affirmative protections shield it from liability under Title VII and WLAD and that McMahon is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Last week’s decision upheld the July order and rejected a second motion by World Vision to end the suit, saying the ministry’s remaining defenses failed as a matter of law.

“World Vision is liable for sex and sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII and WLAD, as well as marital status discrimination under WLAD,” Robart wrote.

In 2010, World Vision won a case where three World Vision employees sued the organization under Title VII after being fired for their lack of belief in the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

In March 2012, World Vision drew mixed reactions for announcing it would permit its U.S. division to employ individuals involved in same-sex marriages, and later retracted the decision, calling it an error.

Robart’s order is not a final ruling in the litigation. However, the case will proceed to trial to determine appropriate relief for damages.

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Jessica Eturralde

Jessica Eturralde is a military wife of 18 years and mother of three who serves as a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker. Bylines include Yahoo, Huffington Post, OC16TV.