A bisexual man is suing Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, saying he wasn’t hired as a staff attorney — “my dream job” — because of his sexual orientation. The mission says all employees must live by the organization’s values and statement of faith.
A bisexual Christian man is suing Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission after it refused to hire him because of his sexual orientation.
Union Gospel Mission, which has provided addiction recovery, one-on-one counseling, emergency shelter and legal support services for homeless people in King County since 1932, says employees must live by a “Biblical moral code.”
When a staff attorney position opened in October 2016 for the nonprofit, religion-based organization, mission volunteer Matthew Woods was encouraged to apply, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in King County Superior Court.
But as he started the application process, he disclosed he was in a same-sex relationship. David Mace, Union Gospel Mission’s managing attorney, told Woods, “sorry you won’t be able to apply,” because the Employee Code of Conduct prohibits homosexuality, the lawsuit says.
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“All staff members are expected to live by a Biblical moral code that excludes extramarital affairs, sex outside of marriage, homosexual behavior, drunkenness, illegal behavior, use of illegal drugs, and any activity that would have an appearance of evil,” states the Employee Code of Conduct.
Woods, 31, still applied for the job, and was not interviewed.
“It was a dream job,” he said. “It was heartbreaking,”
Jeff Lilley, Union Gospel Mission president and licensed minister, makes no apologies.
All 230 employees must sign and attempt to live by this code of conduct and statement of faith, he said.
“We hire people passionate about the Bible,” he said in an interview Thursday. “We ask they live lifestyles that are consistent with biblical values.”
Woods said he is a man of Christian faith.
“I try to lead my life following those beliefs that serving the marginalized, the voiceless, the least among us is what Christ called us to do,” he said. “To hear myself and others in my community lumped in with those who would appear evil was very disappointing.”
Born and raised in Phoenix, Woods moved to the Seattle area in 2004. While in law school at the University of Washington in 2012, he started as an intern at Union Gospel Mission. Its Open Door Legal Services program offers clients weekly free legal clinics in Seattle, Bellevue and Everett. Woods continued as a volunteer attorney through 2015. As a volunteer, he wasn’t required to sign the code of conduct, nor was his sexuality discussed.
His lawsuit says the work of a staff attorney at the organization is unrelated to any religious activities.
Woods, who now works for Northwest Justice Project, said he is suing not for financial gain but because he wants Union Gospel Mission to change its hiring practice. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
The suit alleges Union Gospel Mission violated Washington’s law prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In the 2014 Ockletree v. Franciscan Health System case, the Washington state Supreme Court determined employees have the right to sue religious nonprofits.
But Lilley is confident Union Gospel Mission is on solid legal ground.
“Organizations that are faith-based can select the staff they want,” Lilley said.
Nationally, there have been a wave of challenges to religious values.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Olympia pharmacists’ appeal that dispensing of emergency contraceptives violated their religious beliefs.
Yet the judges will hear the case of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.
Union Gospel Mission received more than $23 million in contributions, grants and gifts during the 2016 fiscal year, according to GuideStar, which tracks nonprofit tax filings.
In August, it said it would lay off more than a dozen employees and shutter several youth programs after falling short of donation goals.
The city of Seattle cut its winter shelter funding for 2018 because of its employment practices, Lilley said. He couldn’t recall how much it was, but said it was small in comparison to gifts and donations.
Lilley said Union Gospel Mission serves everyone, including the LGBTQ homeless population.