A federal appellate court rejected the appeal of an upstate man who was fired from his job at a school district in 2018 after refusing to attend a mandatory workplace LGBTQ training.
Raymond Zdunski argued the LGBTQ training held by his employer, the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES, was “aimed at changing his religious beliefs about gender and sexuality” and was against his religion as a devout Christian, The Buffalo News reported.
The Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) denied Zdunski’s request for religious accommodations.
In the lawsuit, Zdunski sought reinstatement, back pay and $10 million in damages, but District Court Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford dismissed the case a year ago.
On Monday, a Manhattan-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with that decision and backed BOCES for terminating the Ashville, New York man.
Both judges countered with Zdunski’s claims of “unlawful religious discrimination” and sided with BOCES. His former employer has maintained that Zdunski was fired after repeatedly refusing to complete the mandatory training program that was designed to facilitate a safe environment for students and staff.
“It just seems like the country is against the Christian way of life, and it’s for everything else,” Zdunski said in response. “We’re not allowed to practice our way of life but anyone else can, it seems.”
David O’Rourke, district superintendent and CEO of Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES reiterated that Zdunski was not fired because of his religious beliefs, but because he continuously refused to attend the mandatory training program.
“We agree with the decisions of both the United States District Court and the Court of Appeals, and remain committed to fostering a safe and supportive environment for all students and staff,” O’Rourke said.
Zdunski worked at the BOCES central business office in Fredonia as an account clerk for about seven years, making $32,000 each year. He was promoted to senior account clerk a week before being fired.
After refusing to take part in the training session, Zdunski asked his bosses to schedule a mandatory training session concerning the persecution of Christians, according to court documents.
In last year’s court ruling against Zdunski, Crawford noted that state law requires BOCES to provide annual anti-discrimination trainings for all employees to maintain an environment free of discrimination and harassment.
If BOCES allowed Zdunski to skip the training they would have violated the requirements in the Dignity for All Students Act anti-discrimination training that all BOCES employees are required to complete as a condition of their employment, Crawford said
Zdunski’s lawyer, Kristina S. Heuser, said his rights were violated “for no other reason than his refusal to be indoctrinated with anti-biblical teaching.”
“Though the lower courts did not find in his favor, we are not deterred and will seek redress from the US Supreme Court,” Heuser said.