Nursing home loses rosary case; ordered to pay ex-employee $70,000
A Mississippi nursing home has been ordered to pay nearly $70,000 in damages for terminating an employee for not praying the rosary.
Kelsey Nobach was an activities aide at Woodland Village Nursing Home Center in Diamondhead, MS, until September 2009. Days after she declined to pray the Catholic rosary with a resident, claiming it violated her religious beliefs, she was fired. Nobach had previous write-ups for issues such as tardiness. But the supervisor who fired her said and documented that “the last write-up on 9-24-09 for not doing rosary with resident is what brought forth termination,” according to court records. The supervisor also said that even if it were her first write-up, Nobach would have been terminated for not saying the rosary, according to records.
Danielle K. Brewer, Nobach's attorney at Baker & Brewer, PLLC, said Monday it was clear Nobach was written up and subsequently fired for an illegal reason. She advises other nursing homes to make sure their policies are written, clear and lawful.
“Even with a policy that on its face is neutral, they still have to consider the reason for the write-up and whether it was lawful,” she explained.
The nursing home said that Nobach had not previously requested a form of accommodation for her religious beliefs. It also reported that Nobach had told her supervisor she had a religious belief that conflicted with saying the rosary.
The jury did not agree with the nursing home and decided on Wednesday that there was enough evidence that Nobach was indeed fired for her religious beliefs. It said that Woodland should pay $55,200 in compensatory damages, $13,884.00 in back pay and $500 in other economic damages, for a total of $69,584. The case was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Southern Division.