- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

A federal appeals court this week reinstated a civil suit claiming Illinois' "best hospital" fired for religious reasons a Baptist job recruiter deemed a "Bible thumper" by its Catholic employment director.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed a lower court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The three-judge panel's decision sets the stage for a civil trial against the University of Chicago Hospitals for firing Victoria Leyva.

Hospital spokesman John Easton said the five-hospital medical center will prevail if the case goes to trial.

"We have great diversity here," Mr. Easton said of the University of Chicago Hospitals, a medical center that ranks on the list of the nation's top 20 hospitals.

U.S. District Judge Blanche M. Manning summarily dismissed the EEOC lawsuit in 2000, without allowing any testimony. In dismissing the case, Judge Manning said Mrs. Leyva quit voluntarily in July 1992 and contended there was no religious discrimination.

The appeals court said Mrs. Leyva returned from a vacation and "found her desk packed up, her office used for storage, and boxes piled up." The three-judge panel ruled that the EEOC "demonstrated that a reasonable employee standing in Leyva's shoes would have believed that had she not resigned, she would have been terminated," thus it was a "constructive dismissal."

Success in court could bring Mrs. Leyva, an Evangelical Christian Baptist, wages lost because she was fired, rehiring or promotion and punitive damages from the hospitals for intentional discrimination.

The EEOC lawsuit focused on JoAnn Shaw, whom the appeals court described as a Roman Catholic hired in May 1991 as director of human resources for the medical center. Mr. Easton said Miss Shaw left for a St. Louis job a year ago but not because of the lawsuit.

Miss Shaw's first order to Mrs. Leyva was to remove from her desk a calendar titled "Treasures of Inspiration: A Woman's Guide to Daily Living," and a clock inscribed "Armitage Baptist Church, Chicago-Illinois. Pastor Charles Lyon."

The court cited as an example of Mrs. Shaw's hostility her actions after the Chicago Hospitals outreach program approved a $500 grant to Mrs. Leyva's church-tutoring program. It said Miss Shaw kept the award secret, and held back Mrs. Leyva's check and congratulatory letter for more than a month, telling associates she would "make her sweat … because [she was] a Bible thumper and a goody-two-shoes."

Miss Shaw also issued a directive ordering all employees to stop recruiting at churches and church job fairs, the appeals ruling said.

Hospital lawyers said Mrs. Leyva recruited exclusively from Armitage Baptist Church, where she hired unqualified workers.

The three-judge panel said Employment Manager Ralph Borkowicz enforced Miss Shaw's ban on recruiting at church job fairs, but was himself fired for refusing to dismiss Mrs. Leyva.

Mrs. Leyva complied and said she also stopped hiring at church job fairs, as ordered.

"This directive was a recurrent source of tension," the appeals court said. "Shaw believed Leyva continued to recruit from her church."

Mrs. Leyva complained that her job evaluations as an "excellent recruiter" ended when Miss Shaw arrived and she blamed that change on religious hostility.

Judge Manning is a Bill Clinton appointee as is Circuit Judge Ann Claire Williams, who wrote the 3-0 opinion reversing Judge Manning's ruling. Supporting the reversal were Circuit Judges Harlington Wood, Jr., a 1976 Ford appointee, and John L. Coffey, chosen in 1982 by President Reagan.

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