Religious freedom in the workplace received a boost in January when a federal appeals court reinstated a Chicago woman's religious discrimination lawsuit.

In 2000, a federal district court judge dismissed a lawsuit that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had filed on behalf of Victoria Leyva.

Leyva says the University of Chicago Hospitals (UCH) fired her because of her religious expressions at work. She is suing for $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages in addition to back pay.

According to the EEOC, Leyva's supervisor "constructively discharged" Leyva by creating a work environment so hostile that Leyva resigned. UCH contends that Leyva, a recruiter in the human resources department between 1990 and 1992, resigned voluntarily after receiving a below average performance evaluation. UCH vigorously disputes her claims.

UCH believes that Leyva had "many instances of inadequate job performance" and recruited unqualified candidates.

In January, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals remanded the case to the lower court. According to statements noted in the appeals ruling, Leyva had received acceptable performance evaluations until JoAnn Shaw became personnel director in 1991.

Shaw asked Leyva's immediate supervisor to have Leyva remove an inspirational calendar and a five-inch clock with the name of her church, Armitage Baptist in Chicago, from her desk. Leyva complied.

Leyva, whose job involved recruiting personnel through community groups, says Shaw told UCH employees not to recruit at churches or church job fairs.

According to court statements, Shaw fired supervisor Ralph Borkowicz when he refused to fire Leyva. Shaw called Leyva a "religious fanatic" and a "Bible thumper," Borkowicz says. Leyva's ...

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