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Medical worker fights faith-related firing

A physician assistant says her employer told her to leave her Bible and beliefs at home


Medical worker fights faith-related firing

For 17 years, Valerie Kloosterman gained glowing performance reviews as a physician assistant for Michigan Health. Yet her career came unglued when the 172-year-old medical system pushed her to violate her Biblical beliefs.

In 2021, a training module required Kloosterman to check boxes to indicate she affirmed statements about sexuality and transgenderism. Some of the statements conflicted with her United Reformed Church beliefs that God ordains biological sex, and neither drugs nor surgery can alter it. Upon sharing her concerns with her human resources team, Kloosterman said a Michigan Health diversity leader called her “evil” and told her not to take her Bible or religious beliefs to work.

Less than a month later, Kloosterman was fired.

Now, First Liberty Institute is demanding her reinstatement. The Plano, Texas, legal group also asks Michigan Health to accommodate employees whose faith prohibits using transgender pronouns or making patient referrals for gender-altering drugs or surgeries. Unless those conditions are met, First Liberty will pursue action against Michigan Health in federal court.

“One thing I want to make clear is Valerie really did everything right,” First Liberty senior counsel Jordan Pratt said. “And I think that she trusted the process, trusted the hospital to do the right thing. … But for all of her 17 years of service, for her proactiveness and her honesty, the university rewarded her with termination.”

Though religion leads the list of freedoms in the First Amendment, UM Health-West—where Kloosterman worked—lists religion last in its nondiscrimination notice. At the same time, the health system defines gender as a person’s “inner sense of their gender.” A person may claim no gender at all, identify as both male and female, or shift back and forth between the sexes, according to the hospital.

Kloosterman explained to hospital leaders that she chose to use patient names instead of pronouns. In her clinical setting, she’d never been asked to refer a patient for gender reassignment surgery or to prescribe related drugs. She did provide ongoing care for many LGBT patients. Still, when Kloosterman cited her Christian faith in not using transgender pronouns or making sex-change referrals, she said a diversity program leader blamed her for the suicides of people with gender dysphoria and for abusing her power as a healthcare provider.

The Supreme Court has cracked down on official acts of hostility toward religion, First Liberty explained in its Sept. 27 demand letter. The letter also cites Michigan Health inconsistencies. The health system accommodates nonreligious objections: A male provider is excused from performing female pelvic exams, doctors unwilling to perform toenail removals are not scheduled to see those patients, and other providers are excused from prescribing opioids or diet pills.

“There was never a serious discussion about how do we accommodate [Kloosterman],” Pratt said. “They simply centered on attacking her religious convictions.”

Nashville-based attorney Liz Washko, whose clients include healthcare firms, describes the clash between religious beliefs and job duties this way: “Healthcare employers also have an obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation of their employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs, as long as the accommodation will not cause the employer to suffer an undue hardship.”

For workers seeking religious accommodations from an employer, documenting the process can be crucial. Employees may elect to record human resource meetings, if permitted by state law, and to bring a co-worker as a witness.

Michigan Health officials did not respond to questions about how they accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees and whether they celebrate religious freedom on par with other kinds of diversity. They did respond to First Liberty late Monday and asked to extend an Oct. 3 deadline for deciding Kloosterman’s fate. The new deadline is Oct. 7.

“I think this case does serve as an example that often one can’t take the diversity and inclusion assurances at face value,” Pratt said. “And I think that’s a sad thing.”

Gary Perilloux

Gary is a native of Hammond, La., and an alumnus of Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana State University. Over three decades, he worked as an editor and reporter in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and as communications director for Louisiana Economic Development. A 2022 graduate of World Journalism Institute, he and his wife reside in Baton Rouge, La.


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