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Liberty holds up religious defenses to discrimination suit
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Liberty holds up religious defenses to discrimination suit

Liberty University has responded to a discrimination lawsuit from its former director of diversity retention, counting among its defenses that its religious beliefs protect it from claims of discrimination based on the plaintiff’s status as a gay man.

LeeQuan McLaurin filed his lawsuit against the university in federal court last month, demanding unspecified monetary damages for alleged discrimination and retaliation against him while he worked there from 2018 to 2020. He claimed he repeatedly was harassed by his supervisor for refusing to condemn homosexuality and members of the LGBTQ community and that LU used his likeness without his consent to promote a conservative event on campus focused on Black people.

McLaurin also claimed pay disparities based on his sexual orientation and race, and stated in his lawsuit he was excluded from meetings about campus diversity following complaints he made to LU’s human resources department about discrimination.

In a response filed this week, LU admitted McLaurin had multiple meetings with human resources but denied it ever discriminated against him for any reason. It claimed that although he did file a formal employment discrimination charge against LU, it wasn’t timely and there are parts of his lawsuit he didn’t include in that filing.

The university presented 14 legal defenses, stating among them McLaurin left his position voluntarily after failing to use its internal processes to address discrimination.

Religious exemptions play a major role in its first three defenses, in part claiming McLaurin legally qualifies as a “minister” at LU and can’t sue for discrimination on that basis. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court left the definition of who qualifies as a “minister” while working for a religious institution an open one, based on what the employee does, in a 7-2 decision.

“In particular, although Liberty denies that it discriminated against Mr. McLaurin based upon his religion, sex or sexual orientation, Liberty’s sincerely held religious beliefs constitute a defense to Mr. McLaurin’s claim of discrimination on the basis of his religion and his sexual orientation,” another defense states.

McLaurin’s lawsuit is one of several civil rights- or discrimination-centered cases filed against LU in the past few months.

One is a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by former LU wide receiver and NFL player Kelvin Edwards, who was hired into a diversity position by then-LU President Jerry Falwell Jr. after fallout from tweets Falwell made that were decried as racist, and was fired months later after Falwell resigned.

Another is a class action lawsuit that includes anecdotes about homophobic culture LGBTQ students experienced at LU in seeking to remove certain religious protections to discrimination complaints on religious campuses. All of those lawsuits still are pending.

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