WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A federal judge has determined Williamson County Commissioners Cynthia Long and Lisa Birkman violated the civil rights of Robert Lloyd by asking him about religion, abortion and same-sex marriage during a job interview in 2013. Lloyd was applying for a job as the Constable for Precinct 3.
The lawsuit claims Long and Birkman asked Lloyd questions during the interview process that violated his Fourteenth Amendment. The Texas Civil Rights Project sued the county in June 2013 on behalf of one of three applicants for the vacant constable post. Commissioners reached a $100,000 settlement with two plaintiffs, denying any violations of the law. The case involving Lloyd, the original plaintiff, continued on to federal court.
“That’s what I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, I asked a question on their view on gay marriage and their view on abortion to all the applicants for Precinct 3 constable,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman said during a deposition hearing in August 2014.
Federal law prohibits employers – public or private – from using religious views in the hiring process. It’s treated the same as race, gender or age. The Texas Bill of Rights is also clear saying “no religious test should be required as a qualification to any office.”
On Dec. 2, Judge David Ezra ruled in Lloyd’s favor issuing a permanent injunction and concluding that the Commissioners violated his civil rights.
The lawsuit’s conclusion is below:
For the reasons stated above, the Court finds that Lloyd’s Equal Protection Rights under the Fourteenth Amendment were violated when he was asked questions about his views on same-sex marriage, abortion, and religious affiliation during the course of an interview for an appointment to a Williamson County Constable’s position. The Court further finds that the appropriate remedy is the imposition of the following permanent injunction: Williamson County Officials and their agents are prevented from asking any questions, written or oral, of any applicant to an appointed Constable position, regarding their views on same-sex marriage, abortion, or religious affiliation.
In his ruling, Judge Ezra said if Williamson County officials ask any questions, written or oral, regarding their views on same-sex marriage, abortion, or religious affiliation they will be held in contempt of court.
Background on Lloyd’s case
In March 2013, Lloyd, a 25-year law enforcement veteran, was one of five candidates interviewed for the open Precinct 3 constable position in Williamson County. He says the questions asked by county commissioners took him by surprise.
“The majority of the interview took place asking me what my political affiliation was, my views on abortion, my views on gay marriage, long conversation about my religion,” Lloyd claimed.
Lloyd’s attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project say those questions are illegal. In court records, Lloyd recounts his answer when he was asked that question about his position on gay marriage.
“I gave the best answer that I felt that I could with the knowledge that the world is changing, people are changing, the US supreme court looks at these cases every day,” Lloyd said.
According to the lawsuit, one commissioner responded by saying, “If you are appointed as constable, you better come up with a better answer than that.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules state: “an employer may not base hiring decisions on stereotypes and assumptions about a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or genetic information.”
Lloyd’s attorneys also obtained handwritten notes taken by one commissioner during the interview process.
“You can see that they actually took notes about gay marriage and abortion responses and noted that in their political, religious opinion, that his response was not definitive,” said Wayne Krause Yang. “So you can see that this actually affected his ability to be a constable.”