In lawsuit, Catholic lawyer claims World Relief rescinded job offer because he is gay

He alleges the evangelical-run humanitarian organization rescinded his job offer after learning he is in a same-sex marriage.

A World Relief vehicle outside the offices in Spokane, Washington. Image courtesy of Google Maps

(RNS) — A lawyer in Spokane, Washington, is suing an evangelical-run humanitarian organization for discrimination, alleging the organization rescinded his job offer due to his sexual orientation.

Emmanuel Campos Gonzalez, a licensed attorney, filed a lawsuit against World Relief on Monday (Jan. 24) stating that the group violated Washington’s law against discrimination. 

“The allegation he’s making is that the job offer that was given to him at World Relief Spokane was rescinded because he is in a same-sex marriage,” Campos Gonzalez’s lawyer, Stephen Bergman, told Religion News Service.

World Relief is a global Christian humanitarian organization headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, involved in refugee resettlement and immigration aid, disaster relief, addressing extreme poverty and ending violence against vulnerable populations. World Relief has had an office in Spokane for 30 years and has settled roughly 10,000 refugees during that time. 

Campos Gonzalez is Catholic and has been married to his husband since 2012. According to the complaint, he signed up to volunteer at World Relief Spokane’s immigration law clinic in August 2021. During the interview process for the volunteer post, he learned of and applied to a paid position as a Department of Justice Accredited Representative.

“One of my goals, when I went to law school, was to become an immigration attorney to help other immigrants like me,” Campos Gonzalez told local news outlet 4 News Now. In the position, Campos Gonzalez would have provided legal representation for Immigration Legal Services clients.

The lawsuit states that in late September, Campos Gonzalez received a verbal job offer for the position and was scheduled for an Oct. 18 start date. Two weeks later, World Relief’s director of human resources allegedly informed Campos Gonzalez the job offer was rescinded. While the director of human resources declined to clarify the reasons for the decision, the lawsuit says Mark Finney, executive director of World Relief Spokane, indicated it was due to a policy of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella organization to World Relief.

The NAE policy, which applies to subsidiary organizations, requires employee’s sexual activities take place within the “biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman,” according to the lawsuit.

Sam Smith, who was the director of immigration legal services at World Relief Spokane at the time and who initially hired Campos Gonzalez, said members of the World Relief Spokane office were not informed about this employment policy. 

“No one in our office knew about it,” said Smith, whose team Campos Gonzalez would have joined. “This isn’t something that we were operating under knowingly, so that’s part of where our frustration came from, that failure in communication.”

Smith resigned after World Relief’s national office rescinded Campos Gonzalez’s job offer and says those who remain in the Spokane office were also troubled by the incident, even if not all of them are currently in a position to seek employment elsewhere. 

“I was part of an office where, almost to a person, everyone is upset by the decision,” said Smith. 

Finney announced his resignation as executive director of World Relief Spokane last week after five years in that position — his final day in the office will be Feb. 15. Finney declined to comment on the record for this story due to the pending litigation.  

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A Washington law prevents employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but it includes an exemption for religious organizations. The lawsuit asserts the exemption is unconstitutional because the position Campos Gonzales applied to was unrelated to World Relief’s religious policies or practices.

“We love and serve all people, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity may be,” World Relief told Religion News Service in a statement. “Religious organizations, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or any other faith, are able to hire staff that share their beliefs and doctrine. All hiring decisions are made by World Relief, not the National Association of Evangelicals. We do not comment on individual hiring decisions.”

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Smith said that as it stands, he believes the NAE policy makes it difficult for employees to connect and build trust with clients, especially those who are members of the LGBTQ community. In January, Smith helped form a new immigrant legal aid organization called Manzanita House, which will be based in Spokane. He told Religion News Service the new organization would be a secular nonprofit that will seek to hire people who are “qualified and committed to the mission of Manzanita House,” regardless of sexual orientation or other identity markers.  

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