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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2006
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Valley clinic loses suit over religious bias in workplace

HUNTSVILLE (AP) — A federal court jury ordered a medical office to pay $115,000 to a former employee who filed suit claiming she was fired for refusing to discuss her feelings about God while at work.

Carolyn S. Hall of Paint Rock sued Alabama Pain Center for religious discrimination under the federal Civil Rights Act in January. Jurors ruled in her favor on Dec. 20 after a trial before U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith.

Hall claimed Dr. Dean Willis, the clinic's owner, told her in late 2003 that he was concerned about her job performance because he did not know where she stood with God. Hall testified that she declined to talk with Willis about her religious views and was fired as office manager several weeks later.

"The jury obviously agreed with our position that one's religious views are personal," Hall's attorney, John D. Saxon, said Tuesday. "No employer should impose his or her religious views on an employee."

Phillip Scott Arnston, an attorney for the clinic, said the verdict may be appealed but declined further comment. In court filings, Arnston said Hall was fired for poor job performance.

Saxon said Hall believes in God and attends church. But, he said, she felt uncomfortable talking with Willis about her religious preferences.

"She just thought it was personal," Saxon said.

Jurors awarded Hall $15,000 for mental anguish and $100,000 in punitive damages.

Saxon said the clinic probably will be able to get the judgment reduced to $50,000 because Congress capped jury awards in cases involving civil rights violations.

Hall, 48, was hired by the clinic as an insurance specialist in July 2002 but was quickly promoted to insurance supervisor and then office manager, Saxon said. At the time of her firing in February 2004, she was making about $37,000 a year, he said.

In her complaint, Hall said Willis led a daily prayer meeting for employees at the medical office. She said the sessions, which lasted up to an hour, were held in a small chapel with stained-glass windows that is part of the business.

Hall said she felt that Willis expected her to attend the prayer meetings. The lawsuit says she went occasionally in an effort to "appease" the doctor.

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Information from: The Huntsville Times, http://www.al.com/hsvtimes/hsv.html

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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