HOUSTON – A Catholic health educator recently filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Legacy Community Health (LCH), alleging she was fired because she refused to teach about birth control.

In documents filed with the EEOC, Karen “Alexia” Palma alleges the religious accommodation her former employer provided for one-and-a-half years ended with the appointment of a new supervisor, Elizabeth Mondello, director of Legacy’s public health department. Palma was required by Mondello to attend Planned Parenthood training and teach patients about contraception.

“I told her that teaching about birth control violates my sincerely held beliefs as a Catholic,” Palma said in court documents.

Previously Legacy allowed her to show patients a 20-minute video on contraception in lieu of teaching the subject. Palma charges this was an easy accommodation that did not cause the health center hardship. 

In a June meeting Palma’s religious accommodation was revoked by Amy Leonard, vice president of public health.

“If you don’t put your religious beliefs aside, you can’t work here,” the documents quote Leonard as saying. In that same meeting, Leonard allegedly told Palma that she knows “lots of Catholics” who use birth control.

“The company gave Alexia an ultimatum, violate your faith or be fired,” Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, the law firm representing Palma, said in a press release. “That’s a violation of federal law and it is blatant religious discrimination.”

In most cases, employees must first file administrative complaints with the EEOC, state or local fair employment practices agencies before going to court. In Texas, administrative complaints can be due within 180 days after the discriminatory event, and even earlier for federal employees.

 “As presented, (we) believe, Ms. Palma’s charge against Legacy Community Health raises valid and important questions about whether or not her employer acted lawfully in response to her request for a religious accommodation,” Susan Motley, president of the Texas Employment Lawyers Association (TELA), told the Southeast Texas Record. “The case…is a good opportunity to educate individuals about the mandatory administrative complaint process that most employees must follow.”

In Texas, jurisdiction of local, state and federal agencies frequently overlap in employment discrimination complaints. An agreement among these agencies often allows for a complaint filed with one to be recognized as being filed with the other agencies as well.

“Because these administrative complaints are often a mandatory prerequisite to filing a lawsuit, they often make the enforcement process much longer, much more complicated, and much more expensive than it might be otherwise,” Motley said.


According to the EEOC’s website, 9,539 Texas workers filed discrimination charges in 2015; 311 of those were religious charges. Retaliation is the most prominent discrimination, with 4,642 individuals charging employers, or former employers, last year.

“Regardless of which agency investigates the charge, in most cases, the agency’s decision is not binding and has very little effect on a later filed lawsuit,” Motley said.

Despite the outcome of the EEOC’s investigation in Palma’s case, Motley said “TELA anticipates that she could pursue these claims in court, barring any other events or circumstances that might prevent her from pursuing a lawsuit.” 

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