Mandatory prayers at Texas medical centre sparks lawsuit
Dr Timothy Shepherd and his wife, Virginia have been named in a lawsuit that alleges staff at Shepherd Healthcare were ordered to attend prayer meetings, and were punished if they refused.
The lawsuit, launched last week by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said that the North Texas family medicine practice forced staff to pray during daily meetings, singling out unwed couples and firing those who disagreed with the owners’ Christian beliefs.
In 2013, Dr Shepherd, father of 11 children, ranted about Obamacare, and complained about healthcare being more and more regulated by government.
According to this report, the Shepherds, who posted a picture on Facebook of themselves attending the National Day of Prayer in Washington in May, led staff meetings included Bible readings and discussions of how the biblical principles related, or could be applied, to the personal lives of employees.
This happened regardless of the staff’s own religious convictions, the lawsuit said, adding that the company violated federal law when it fired and refused to accommodate the religious beliefs of at least four staffers.
Shepherd Healthcare, which is in Lewisville, denies the allegations. Said employment attorney Tom Brandon who is representing the company:
Were there Bible studies? Sure. Was there an emphasis that staff should come? Yes. But was anyone ever punished for not coming? No.
Terminations were due to insubordination, lack of professionalism and poor performance, he said.
According to the nine-page complaint, one employee at Shepherd Healthcare was Almeda Gibson who said she was a Buddhist. 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 prayer 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 next day.
Others had similar claims. 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, which she refused. After about one year on the job, she was fired for “insubordination”.
A clinical supervisor named Courtney Maldonado said she worked at the practice for nearly four years but was removed from her post after being told she needed to be “more godly.”
A physician’s assistant named Joshua Stoner says he was advised to seek premarital counseling because he was living with his girlfriend.
Others not included in the lawsuit said that the Bible readings were held every day from 8 am until about 8:20 am. They date back to at least 2013, but they did not become mandatory until mid-2015 when staff were asked to arrive at 7:55 am, said former office manager Kayme Oelberg.
Many people couldn’t do that. The owners were persistent. There was a lot of tension.
She says she quit in March 2016 when one of the Shepherds started telling staff they were “not as godly as they should be,” and that:
They needed to be disciples like Jesus.
The Shepherds were not available for comment.
But Brandon says his clients maintain that the daily meetings in which scriptures were read were voluntary. The terminations had nothing to do with religious practice or faith.
They were exercising what they thought was in the best interest of their practice and the patients they serve. We’re still in the process of trying to uncover the real facts.
The lawsuit is seeking back pay, lost wages and punitive damage for the plaintiffs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is also requesting that Shepherd Healthcare update its employment policies.