Raymond Zdunski, a former account clerk in upstate New York, has lost his appeal against the Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) for firing him for refusing to attend a mandatory LGBTQ training in 2018. Zdunski claimed that the training was “aimed at changing his religious beliefs about gender and sexuality” and would have caused him to violate his religious teachings. BOCES argued that the training was intended to help prevent discrimination in the workplace. The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Zdunski’s appeal, saying he had failed to provide sufficient evidence to support his claims.
The court backed BOCES, stating that Zdunski was fired for insubordination after he repeatedly refused directives to attend a mandatory cultural competency training program that was designed to facilitate a safe environment for both students and staff. BOCES reiterated its commitment to fostering a safe and supportive environment for all students and staff, free from unlawful discrimination.
In 2022, Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford of the District Court dismissed Zdunksi’s lawsuit, ruling that his assertions lacked evidence. The Judge also concurred with BOCES’ stance that Zdunksi was terminated for declining to attend the training, which BOCES claimed was designed to prevent workplace discrimination:
“Plaintiff’s unsupported assumption that Defendants believe him to be ‘bigoted’ due to his religious beliefs is insufficient to support an inference of discrimination,” Crawford said in his ruling. “In sum, no facts in the record support a finding that Mr. Zdunski was terminated because of his religion; rather, the evidence in the record supports Defendants’ position that his termination was due to repeatedly refusing to attend a mandatory employee training.”
Zdunski has vowed to seek redress from the US Supreme Court, stating that his rights were violated “for no other reason than his refusal to be indoctrinated with anti-biblical teaching.”
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, religious discrimination complaints have been on the rise in recent years, with the number of complaints increasing by nearly 50% between 2011 and 2020. Zdunski’s attorney argued that “these days people of faith – particularly Christian faith – are among the most discriminated against in our nation.” Critics of religious accommodation argue that employers have a right to require employees to attend training to prevent discrimination and create a safe workplace. However, others believe that employers should respect employees’ religious beliefs and offer reasonable accommodations when possible.
The case is also an example of the ongoing debate over LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. While many employers now offer LGBTQ training, some individuals and organizations claim that such training violates their religious beliefs. Religious organizations have been particularly vocal in their opposition to LGBTQ training and have argued that it forces them to violate their religious beliefs. However, LGBTQ advocates argue that such training is essential to prevent discrimination and create a safe and inclusive workplace for all employees.
It is noteworthy that sexual orientation is often treated as a sensitive and delicate subject. Many workplaces even provide diversity training to help employees interact with individuals who identify as LGBTQ or are ethnic minorities. In contrast, workplaces typically do not require employees to engage with religious texts or practices such as reading the Bible, watching religious films, or praying, which would in theory help them to better engage with their Christian workers. This lack of effort to understand and accommodate those with religious beliefs is particularly noticeable when it comes to Christian straight White males, who are often excluded from discussions around diversity and inclusion, yet are forced to sit through specific training for LGBTQ workers as well as minorities.