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Teacher's Religious-Bias Suit Against Charter School Revived

A federal appeals court has partially revived the lawsuit of a charter school teacher who claimed she lost her job because she objected on religious grounds to an event where staff members imbibed in alcoholic drinks.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruled unanimously to revive the lawsuit filed by Jessica Wilkerson against the New Media Technology Charter School in Philadelphia.

The suit, filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, claimed that the charter school didn't renew Wilkerson's contract after she complained that a "libations ceremony" at a staff banquet, which she perceived as involving participants drinking in "religious worship to their ancestors," according to court papers. The court said there was little in the record explaining the exact nature of the ceremony, but it offended Wilkerson's Christian religious beliefs.

A federal district court dismissed her suit, but the appeals court panel revived the parts of her suit alleging she was non-renewed for refusing to participate in the drinking ceremony and for complaining about it.

"Wilkerson's complaints following the ceremony were based on her religious beliefs, and therefore ... could be read to allege that her termination was based on her religious beliefs, a violation of Title VII," the court said in Wilkerson v. New Media Technology Charter School said.

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