A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling in favor of the LDS Church in a lawsuit filed by a former employee who claimed sex, age and religious discrimination.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that Sharon H. Cook has no direct evidence of gender or age bias on the part of the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In addition, COP is a religious corporation that could require Cook to maintain a valid temple recommend – written certification of an individual’s worthiness to enter a temple – as a condition of keeping her job as a graphic designer for church publications, the 10th Circuit said in a decision issued Thursday.
A temple recommend is issued based on a number of factors, including whether an individual adheres to the church’s teachings and does not support groups who oppose the church.
According to court records, Cook ran into trouble in late 2001, when church security officers received information that an excommunicated member knew of a bomb threat to LDS temples. An informant said the graphic designer might have given the former member access to the church’s in-house mail system to distribute materials.
After questioning Cook, the officers said her statements suggested she supported the ex-member and held “strange and unorthodox religious beliefs.” COP took no disciplinary action after she reaffirmed her belief in LDS teachings.
However, Cook was suspended without pay in February 2002 after the former member and his wife moved into her home. She was later reinstated on probationary status after agreeing to refrain from communicating with the former member or advancing his views.
Later in 2002, Cook, a non-lawyer who represented herself, filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
She was fired in May 2003 after 18 years on the job for her “lack of fidelity” to the LDS Church and for allegedly using the courts to gather information on behalf of her tenant, the excommunicated member.
U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell later granted a motion by the church to resolve the case in its favor without going to trial, which led to the 10th Circuit’s ruling.