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Court Allows Lawsuit Over Religious Objections to Chosen Pronouns

Denise Haskins alleges her religious beliefs do not allow her to use a transgender colleague's chosen pronouns. Haskins worked for Bio Blood Components for two years, screening patients who donate their plasma. Haskins's colleague RS was born female and identifies as male. RS asked his colleagues to use male pronouns when referring to him. Haskins asserts her religious beliefs do not allow her to "live a lie and remain within the truth." Haskins says referring to RS with male pronouns forces her "to repeat that lie out loud with her own lips" and "is a significant violation of her right to practice her religion." RS complained about Haskins's refusal to use his male pronouns. When asked about her refusal by her supervisor, Haskins asked for a "religious accommodation." Bio Blood refused Haskins' request without discussion. When Haskins refused to budge and would not resign, Bio Blood terminated her employment.

Haskins filed a religious discrimination claim in a Michigan federal court, arguing Bio Blood failed to accommodate her. Bio Blood sought to dismiss the complaint because it could not "reasonably accommodate" Haskins's beliefs without undue hardship. The company argued that Haskins's use of improper pronouns for RS or other transgender employees would amount to unlawful harassment under Title VII (an argument supported by the EEOC's guidance).

The court determined Haskins's complaint was unclear on whether she used any pronouns when referring to RS. The court thought co-workers mostly used proper names when addressing each other. As such, the court said it lacked sufficient information to assess the nature of the undue hardship asserted by Bio Blood. Notably, the court said Haskins's proposed accommodation, which was to tell RS she could not use his pronouns "to suit a personal whim or accommodate a mental illness or belief system," might equal harassment under Title VII and would not be a reasonable accommodation regardless. However, the court concluded other accommodations might be available, as suggested in Haskins' complaint. For now, Haskins's claim will proceed.