Judge rejects lawsuit dismissal request from Tyrone nursing home
Woman says she was terminated because of religion
A U.S. District judge in Johnstown has rejected a request from a Tyrone nursing home to dismiss a lawsuit in which one of its former employees contends she was terminated because of her religious belief that prevents her from working on Sundays.
Linda Miller, 64, filed a civil rights lawsuit in Blair County Court in January stating she worked as a licensed practical nurse at Colonial Courtyard, a nursing home owned by Tithonus Tyrone LP of Pleasant Valley Boulevard, Tyrone.
The lawsuit was eventually moved to the U.S. District Court in Johnstown by the Tyrone corporation because it involves a question of religious liberty under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson rejected the nursing home’s request to dismiss the case.
Gibson ruled that “Miller has stated plausible claims for religious discrimination in violation of Title VII under a theory of both failure to accommodate and disparate treatment and accordingly denies TTLP’s motion to dismiss.”
Miller, who lives in Tyrone and is represented by Altoona attorney Jason M. Imler, states that she was employed at the nursing home for 12 years.
She claims that the management of the nursing home knew that she attended church every Sunday and that “her religious beliefs require her to treat Sunday as a day of rest.”
The nursing home accommodated her religious beliefs for 11 years, the lawsuit states.
However, in the summer of 2017, Tithonus management told Miller she would “have no choice but to work on Sundays.”
She was scheduled to work on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, but called off because of illness, noting she had a doctor’s excuse. On Nov. 14, 2017, she was terminated.
The lawsuit claims Miller suffered religious discrimination in violation of several sections of the Federal Civil Rights Act and lists violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and well as violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
Philadelphia attorney Sean R. Riley, representing Tithonus Tyrone, argued Miller does not have a “sincere religious belief that Sundays are a day of rest.”
The defense attorney assumed that if Miller had not been ill on Nov. 12, 2017, she would have worked because she did not cite her belief that Sunday was a day of rest as a reason for her absence.
Gibson in his 13-page opinion responded, “The fact that the complaint states that Miller did not work on Sunday because she was sick does not mean that she would have worked had she not been sick — the two are not mutually exclusive.”
He then noted that the sincerity of a religious belief is a question for the fact finder — a jury– not for the court.
The nursing home also contended that an accommodation of Miller’s religious beliefs places an “undue burden” on the nursing home.
This question, while a possible defense against Miller’s claims of failure to accommodate, is premature, Gibson ruled.
Imler said this week the religious liberty case is in its “very early stages.”
He said the judge’s opinion means that the process of discovery — pinning down the facts of the case — can proceed.
He also stated the case will be referred to the Alternative Dispute Resolution program where an attempt will be made to settle out of court.
Miller, meanwhile, has found new employment at a day care center near Bellwood.