It’s been a big few weeks for religious liberty news, with a California judge ruling in favor of a baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex couple. Now, another ruling on magistrates could further transform the religious liberty debate.
Law firm Becket released a statement last week claiming victory in the Myrick v. EEOC case after a federal court found that North Carolina officials violated a magistrate’s rights when they forced her to resign over her beliefs on traditional marriage.
The case surrounded Gayle Myrick, a magistrate in Union County who found herself deeply conflicted after gay marriage was legalized in the state. According to Becket, she was forced to resign in 2014 despite trying to find a work-around that would honor both her sincerely held views on marriage and the rights of gays and lesbians looking to wed in her state.
Now, North Carolina is paying her a $300,000 settlement, which includes $210,000 in lost pay and retirement and legal fees, the AP and the Fayetteville Observer reported.
“When same-sex marriage became legal, she didn’t want to stop any couple from getting married, but she also knew that her religious beliefs prevented her from performing a same-sex wedding ceremony,” the law firm said in a statement.
The text continued, “Since performing weddings was a small part of her work, Gayle’s immediate supervisor proposed a solution: shift Gayle’s schedule by a couple hours so she wasn’t working when marriage ceremonies were performed.”
But North Carolina reportedly rejected this solution and instead urged Myrick to resign — just two months before she would have been vested in the retirement system.
Becket argued that other staff routinely shifted their schedules, but that Myrick’s case was a problem due to the fact that it was her religious convictions that necessitated the scheduling change.
After Myrick filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government agency responsible for employment grievances, a judge found that she faced discrimination and that the government could have found a reasonable accommodation.
She has now won the right to the salary and retirement benefits that she would have lost. Myrick said that she is happy with how the case concluded and that she believes it never needed to be a conflict, as the law can work in a way that offers “respect and dignity” to all.
“I have always wanted to find a way to protect everyone’s dignity,” Myrick said. “The solution in my case would allow any couple to get lawfully married without facing rejection or delay, and magistrates with religious beliefs like me could step aside and still keep our jobs.”
One of the most intriguing elements of Myrick’s plight is the fact that the state enacted a law in 2015 — just one year after her departure — that would have protected her, as it allows magistrates to cite religious beliefs in declining to marry same-sex couples.