Lawsuit Claims a North Texas Medical Group Tried to Force Staff to Be ‘more Godly’

A North Texas family medicine practice is accused of forcing staff to pray during daily meetings, singling out unwed couples and firing those who disagreed with the owners’ religious beliefs.The lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Shepherd Healthcare by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It claims that the company violated federal law when it fired and refused to accommodate the differing religious beliefs of at least four staffers.Federal law forbids employers from discriminating based on an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. It requires businesses to reasonably accommodate people’s religious beliefs. That includes heeding requests to be excused from company-sponsored religious activities, said senior trial attorney Meaghan Shepard, who filed the case from the EEOC.Shepherd Healthcare, located in Lewisville on 500 N. Valley Pkwy., failed to meet these requirements, the suit claims. Calls to the practice were not immediately returned Monday.According to the claims, the company held daily meetings led by business owners Dr. Timothy Shepherd or his wife Virginia. The events were mandatory for all employees.But the meetings included biblical readings and discussions of how the biblical principles related, or could be applied, to the personal lives of staff. This happened regardless of the staff’s own religious convictions, the lawsuit said.For example, Almeda Gibson, says she is a follower of Buddhism. She was hired to work at the practice’s call center in 2015 and for about a year requested to be excused from the daily meetings. Her requests were ignored or denied. Attendance remained mandatory.After a final request in 2016, she was told to “think about new employment.” She was fired “the very next day,” says the lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Texas Court.Others had similar claims. Plaintiff Stacy O’Laughlin said one of the owners cited a Bible verse and told her that being a single mother was “not what God wanted.” She was allegedly told to go to counseling sessions, which she refused. After about one year of employment, she was terminated in 2016 for “insubordination.”The lawsuit also says a clinical supervisor named Courtney Maldonado, who worked at the practice for nearly four years, was removed from her post and told she needed to be “more godly,” and a physician’s assistant named Joshua Stoner was advised to seek premarital counseling because he was living with his girlfriend.The lawsuit is seeking back pay, lost wages and punitive damage for the plaintiffs. The EEOC is also requesting that Shepherd Healthcare update its policies.  Continue reading...

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