A federal judge ruled that North Carolina wrongfully forced a magistrate to resign over her religious beliefs.
Gayle Myrick left her position as a magistrate because of her religious objections to performing gay marriages. In the wake of the Obergefell decision that struck down such marriage bans, as well as the controversy over Kentucky County clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for refusing to perform such services, Myrick approached her supervisor and asked to adjust her duties to void any conflict. Her immediate supervisor intended to shift Myrick's schedule because marriage ceremonies constituted only a small portion of her duties. The state, however, overruled such a measure, leading Myrick to resign and forfeit her retirement benefits.
Myrick filed a discrimination complaint against the state to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, arguing that the state unlawfully forced her to resign without making an effort to work around her protected beliefs. Administrative law judge Michael J. Devine found that the state "failed to provide an accommodation … and failed to provide sufficient evidence that granting accommodation would be an undue burden." He found that the environment led Myrick to deliver an involuntary resignation.
"Magistrate Myrick had a good work record and no reason to resign, ‘but for' the change in the law that created her religious conflict and lack of any alternative to participating in a same-sex marriage as part of her duties … I find that Magistrate Myrick's resignation was involuntary and constitutes constructive discharge," the ruling says. "No accommodation was considered as an option by North Carolina."
Myrick welcomed the ruling, saying the state should have respected her beliefs as she sought to respect the court's opinion in Obergefell.
"I have always wanted to find a way to protect everyone's dignity," Myrick said in a statement. "The solution in my case would allow any couple to get lawfully married without facing rejection or delay, and magistrates with religious beliefs like me could step aside and still keep our jobs."
The state was ordered to provide Myrick back pay from the date of her termination, as well as cover her $115,000 attorney fees in the case. Myrick will receive more than $173,000 in compensation as part of the settlement, as well as about $37,000 in contributions to cover for her retirement. Under the terms of the agreement, the state denied liability and guilt in connection to the discrimination claim.
Myrick was represented in the case by the nonprofit religious liberty law firm Becket Fund. Becket attorney Stephanie Barclay said employers must find a balance when religious beliefs come into conflict with sexual politics.
"Faith and sexual orientation are deeply important to the identity of many people, and this case shows that these two things don't have to be at odds with each other," Barclay said in a statement. "Our civil rights laws help us create a diverse society where people can live, work, and break bread together despite our differences."
A spokeswoman for the North Carolina court system did not return messages seeking comment.