Aide fired after refusing to pray is not entitled to $70,000 award, appeals court rules

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A Mississippi nursing home did not violate the law by firing an aide who refused to pray the rosary with a resident, according to a recent appeals court ruling that overturned a nearly $70,000 verdict.

In September 2009, activities aide Kelsey Nobach refused the say the rosary with a resident at the 132-bed, for-profit Woodland Village Nursing Center Inc. in Diamondhead, according to documents from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Nobach told a certified nursing assistant that she would not say the rosary because it was “against her religion,” the Aug. 7 decision states.

However, testimony indicated that Nobach's superior did not know of her religious objection prior to firing her for insubordination, wrote Judge E. Grady Jolly.

After learning of Nobach's religious objections, based on her former membership in a Jehovah's Witness church, Activities Director Lynn Mulherin reportedly said, “I don't care if it's against your religious beliefs or not.” Nobach subsequently turned to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed a lawsuit against Woodland, and a jury found in her favor.

The timing of Nobach's disclosures put the nursing home in the clear, Jolly wrote in his decision to overturn the jury's award. Nobach did not “argue the point,” but other courts have ruled that an employer does not have to withdraw a termination due to information received after the decision has been made, the judge noted.

*Editor's Note: The headline formerly referred to a CNA being fired. The worker in question was an activities aide.

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