Milwaukee, Wis., Dec 9, 2014 / 04:03 am
An anti-harassment training presentation at a Catholic college encourages employees to report critics of "gay marriage" – and could reflect recent federal decisions that the belief in marriage as a union of a man and a woman is discriminatory.
Part of the employee anti-harassment training at the Wisconsin-based Marquette University includes a presentation with a comic strip-style story about a fictional employee named "Harassed Hans," a man in a wheelchair. The training encourages Hans to report to the university human resources his co-workers Becky and Maria who "have been talking about their opposition to same-sex marriage" all week.
"Their co-worker Hans is offended, but he struggles with whether to report the situation," the comic says.
"Hans is right to report Maria and Becky's conversation," the presentation later adds.
The presentation shares the federal government's new understanding that beliefs about marriage as a union only of one man and one woman can be a source of discrimination and illegal harassment.
Since 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has held "sex stereotypes" like "the belief that men should only date women or that women should only marry men" to be illegal discrimination on the basis of sex. This is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the commission said in a news briefing on enforcement protections for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) workers.
Brian Dorrington, senior director of communications at Marquette University, told CNA Nov. 21 that the university requires all employees, faculty, staff and student employees, to complete an anti-harassment module "in accordance with federal law and university policy," He added that harassment training "includes the latest changes in law, and workplace diversity training reflects developing regulations."
He said the presentation uses "hypothetical scenarios" are "teaching tools do not necessarily equate to university policy."
"They are simply tools to raise awareness of various forms of harassment that could arise," he said, adding that any specific harassment case "would be reviewed on an individual basis."
The presentation is from the Austin, Texas-based company Workplace Answers. Dorrington said Workplace Answers has partnered with seven Jesuit universities in addition to other prominent colleges and universities.
CNA repeatedly contacted Workplace Answers for comment but did not receive a reply.
However, one spokeswoman for the federal commission that helps regulate workplace behavior and policy indicated that "gay marriage" opposition can be considered harassment.
Christine Nazer, a public affairs specialist for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, told CNA Dec. 4 that courts have found "particular pejorative behavior or remarks about same-sex relationships to be potential harassment (which employers may act to stop even if it has not yet risen to the actionable level of severe or pervasive), or alternatively to be evidence of discriminatory motivation in a termination case."
Marquette University's "hiring for mission" policy describes the university as an equal opportunity employer and rejects illegal discrimination, though it also professes the right and duty to hire employees who will "make a positive contribution to its religious character."
Nazer said standards of unlawful harassment apply to colleges and universities, news and entertainment media companies, and political parties and political campaigns under two separate federal acts that regulate businesses with 15 or more employees or 20 or more employees, respectively.
The commission also recommends anti-harassment training for managers and employees to prevent and correct unlawful harassment.
The Marquette University anti-harassment presentation says Hans eventually talks to human resources after another week of listening to Maria and Becky criticize "gay marriage."
Becky is shown telling Maria that his complaint is "ridiculous."
"I can't believe he's trying to trample on my free speech rights."
Maria replies: "Why does he even care? Is he gay?"
The presentation continues:
"Even though Becky and Maria were only expressing their opinions and didn't mean to offend, they could still be engaging in harassment. The complainant does not need to be involved in the conversation to be offended. Hans' sexual orientation is also irrelevant; he does not need to be gay to be offended by his coworkers' discussion of same-sex marriage."
The presentation said it is important that Hans "report potential harassment right away" because it will increase his credibility and give his employer a chance to investigate and "makes it less likely the offensive behavior will not recur."
The presentation then displays a "liability avoidance tip."
"Although employees have free speech rights under the United States Constitution, in academic and other workplaces those rights are limited when they infringe upon another person's right to work in an environment free of unlawful harassment."
The presentation's approach to marriage drew criticism from Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the San Diego-based Ruth Institute. She suggests it is an example of the "irrational" nature of the Sexual Revolution and the redefinition of marriage.
"It is simply untrue that men and women are interchangeable. This is what one has to believe in order to believe that removing the gender requirement from marriage is a good thing," said Dec. 4.
"Because it is irrational, it is necessarily totalitarian," she added. "Once we commit ourselves to doing the impossible, we will need to marshal a lot of government force to get the job done. It will take a lot of propaganda in order to make the impossible appear possible."
Marquette University is presently in a controversy over claims that a graduate student teaching an ethics class, in an after-class discussion, told a student that arguing against "gay marriage" could be offensive to homosexuals and the student did not have the right to make "homophobic" comments. She invited the student to drop the class, Inside Higher Ed reports.
The teacher also reportedly asked the student whether he was recording the conversation on his cell phone. He allegedly lied and said he was not.
Dorrington said the university is "taking appropriate steps" to ensure that everyone involved in this controversy is treated fairly in the dispute. He said the university is committed to debate and discussion as "essential elements of our intellectual environment at Marquette, where our faculty and students have the ability to explore ideas, express opinions and participate in discussion."
Nazer said that legal exemptions allow primarily religious, non-profit organizations to prefer people who share their religion.
"The exception does not allow religious organizations otherwise to discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability," she said.
The EEOC is not the only source of rules and regulations apparently barring criticism of "gay marriage" and related issues. The Department of Labor on Dec. 3 finalized a rule implementing President Barack Obama's executive order barring federal government contractors from discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a Dec. 5 statement, said that Catholic teaching rejects unjust discrimination, but added that the executive order and its regulations appear to go further than this.
"In particular, they appear also to prohibit employers' religious and moral disapproval of same-sex sexual conduct, which creates a serious threat to freedom of conscience and religious liberty," several chairmen of U.S. bishops' conference committees and subcommittees said.
Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the bishops said that "under no circumstances" may Catholics approve of homosexual conduct.