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Clerk’s action triggers settlement

Roseburg, OR -- The Douglas County Board of Commissioners will hold a meeting at 11:00 am on Wednesday, April 12, in Room 217 of the Courthouse publicized as a “settlement agreement (K. Slater v. Douglas County)”.

The settlement stems from a lawsuit brought by Kathy Slater, a 10 year employee of the Clerk’s office, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended in 1972).

Slater was fired by County Clerk, Barbara Neilsen after asking to “be excused from doing any work related to domestic partnership registrations”. Slater claimed the processing applications for same sex marriage would be a violation of her religious belief that homosexuality is a sin.

Slater, a 10 year veteran of the Clerk’s office, made the request after Oregon began allowing same-sex domestic partnership registration in 2008.

County Clerk, Barbara Neilsen refused Slater’s request, arguing that all employees must be willing to process the registrations, and to do so would have burdened other employees with additional work.

Slater’s suit claims the county violated federal and state law by failing to accommodate her religious beliefs.

The County filed for a motion with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for summary judgment, arguing that the  county did accommodate Slater’s request by offering her a position outside the Clerk’s Office if one came available.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that the county’s vague offer to transfer Slater did not reasonably accommodate her.
They also noted that Slater had been subsequently rejected for four positions in different departments.

The court also took into consideration that only 37 applications for domestic partnership registrations were processed in Douglas County in the two years that it had been allowed. With each application taking approximately 10 minutes to process, they concluded that having another employee do the job would not have been a hardship for the office.

The Court pointed out that Clerk Neilsen did not make inquires to ascertain the details of Slater’s requested accommodation and that the county failed to “engage in an interactive process” which is required by law.

The court denied the County’s motion for summary judgment and required they present their evidence before a jury. The Commissioners will consider the settlement agreement in a further attempt to avoid going to court.