In 2014, Bethany Paquette did what hordes of recent college graduates do: She worked an entry-level job while applying for more entry-level jobs. Paquette, who had more than three years’ experience as a river rafting guide, was making snow for a ski resort when she applied for the position of “assistant guide intern” with Vancouver wilderness company Amaruk.
Her credentials, and especially her degree, failed to impress Amaruk employees. In a series of bizarre emails, they asserted her affiliation with Christian liberal arts college Trinity Western University made her unwelcome at the company – because the college holds students to a Community Covenant prohibiting sex outside marriage.
On Mar. 2, Paquette won a religious discrimination case against Amaruk.
In one email to Paquette, company representative Olaf Amundsen said just her affiliation with the school made her guilty of discrimination.
“In asking students to refrain from same-sex relationships, Trinity Western University, and any person associated with it, has engaged in discrimination, as well as intolerance against other people’s beliefs, religious, and otherwise,” he wrote.
Paquette’s response noted the company’s hypocrisy.
“Considering Amaruk holds diversity so highly, I thought I should inform you that your disagreement with Trinity Western University, simply because they do not support sex outside of marriage, can in fact be noted as discrimination of approximately 76 percent of the world population!!!” she wrote. “Wow, that’s a lot of diverse people you don’t embrace.”
Paquette filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. After the case went public, other women came forward with stories of strange responses to job applications with the company.
While tribunal member Norman Trerise ultimately decided Paquette was not qualified for the position, he did award her $8,500 for the religious discrimination she experienced.
After the decision, Paquette told the Vancouver Sun she had heard of other Trinity Western grads facing the same discrimination. But at Trinity, she saw “no discrimination.”
“It didn’t matter if someone was gay or bi[-sexual], or what country they were from, everybody cared about one another and they were treated as equals,” she said.
Trinity Western does not require students be Christian or hold to any statement of faith to attend, spokeswoman Amy Robertson said.
Paquette’s case was unusual because of its blatant nature, said Earl Phillips, executive director of Trinity Western University Law. When asked about public reaction to the case, Phillips said the final decision was unsurprising to Canadians, given the company’s stark responses to Paquette. Phillips, who has more than 30 years of experience dealing with employment and human rights issues, said it has been 20 years or more since he has seen a case of such blatant religious discrimination.
“Most of the cases that come up … aren’t because you’re Christian, Jew, Hindu, or Muslim, but because you say you can’t work on a Saturday, for example,” he said. “How do we accommodate that? How do we accommodate a Sikh who needs to wear a turban and a hard hat on the job?”
In the United States, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “discriminating against individuals because of their religion (or lack of religious belief) in hiring, firing, or any other terms and conditions of employment.” After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last year, subsequent cases have focused mainly on accommodations for religious beliefs – such as whether to require provision of benefits or services in situations where doing so would violate the conscience of an employer or business.
Trinity Western has been embroiled in an ongoing battle against discrimination, which even threatened to prevent it from opening the country’s first and only Christian law school. Its latest skirmishes have been with Canadian law societies, some of which have refused to credential its law school graduates over the school’s stance on marriage. In December, the university won a case before the British Columbia Supreme Court, which ruled the Law Society of British Columbia must stand by its 2014 decision to recognize Trinity Western graduates.