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Immigration attorney sues World Relief alleging nonprofit rescinded Spokane job offer because he is gay

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 27, 2022

Emmanuel Campos Gonzalez poses for a photo on Wednesday at his home in Spokane. Gonzalez is suing World Relief, claiming the organization wrongfully retracted a job offer because of his sexual orientation.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Emmanuel Campos Gonzalez poses for a photo on Wednesday at his home in Spokane. Gonzalez is suing World Relief, claiming the organization wrongfully retracted a job offer because of his sexual orientation. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

An immigration lawyer who was offered a staff job at World Relief only to have the offer rescinded the week before he was to start has filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination because he is gay.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, Emmanuel Campos Gonzalez is seeking economic damages from the Christian organization that helps resettle refugees, alleging mental anguish and emotional distress.

“It was very difficult to go through this,” Campos Gonzalez said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review. “I feel that the way I was treated was not right and the whole situation is wrong. I don’t want anyone going through this again, and I don’t want this to happen to anyone.”

Campos Gonzalez graduated from the University of Washington’s School of Law and has previously worked as an immigration attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

Campos Gonzalez was set to volunteer with World Relief in early September, but a staff position for the Department of Justice-accredited representative opened. Campos Gonzalez decided to apply for that instead with the help of Sam Smith, World Relief’s director of immigration legal services.

“Also, I’m bilingual and speak Spanish, so when I saw the job advertising, I thought it was the perfect position for me and I want to help people,” Campos Gonzalez said.

According to the lawsuit, the position “is wholly unrelated to any religious practice or activity.”

Even though the position had no religious implication, Campos Gonzalez was informed that, if hired, he would need to sign a statement of faith to “affirm his belief in Christ and the organization’s values.” The statement is enforced under the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief’s parent organization.

Campos Gonzalez, a Catholic, is gay and has been married to his partner since 2012.

“I never hid my sexual orientation; they knew from the beginning,” Campos Gonzalez said. “When speaking with Sam, he even asked me about my husband … and the same with Mark (Finney, World Relief’s director). I never hide it.”

Finney has since resigned from World Relief.

According to the lawsuit, Campos Gonzalez was never presented the form. After submitting a background check and other required forms, Smith informed Campos Gonzalez on Sept. 29 that World Relief was offering him the position. He accepted and was scheduled to start on Oct. 18.

But on Oct. 13, Karen González, World Relief’s director of human resources, informed Campos Gonzalez that his verbal job offer from the Spokane office was rescinded. The lawsuit states that González told Campos Gonzalez that she could not “clarify the reasons for the rescission” for confidentiality reasons. Campos Gonzalez states there were no “clear reasons” for the revoked offer, calling it “out of the blue.”

“I emailed HR to have an explanation because the only thing pending was my background check, but I know there were no issues with that because I don’t even have a traffic infraction,” he said.

Finney emailed him to apologize for the sudden reversal and cited the National Association of Evangelicals’ policy that mandates sexual activities of employees align with the “biblical covenant of marriage between man and woman,” Campos Gonzalez said. Finney asked whether Campos Gonzalez would instead work as an independent contractor. He declined.

Finney could not be reached for comment regarding the lawsuit, nor could World Relief or the National Association of Evangelicals. In a statement obtained earlier this year by The Spokesman-Review, World Relief stated that “Religious organizations – whether they are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or any other faith – are able to hire staff that share their beliefs and doctrine.”

Campos Gonzalez believes he was not selected for the position solely because he is in a same-sex relationship.

“I was very excited to work. I was so very disappointed and heartbroken because I worked really hard to become an attorney in this country; it was difficult,” Campos Gonzalez said.

With qualifications to match the job description and no criminal record, Campos Gonzalez believes World Relief’s decision to revoke his employment offer violates Washington’s anti-discrimination law.

The Washington Law Against Discrimination, implemented in 1949, states that “an employer may not refuse to hire a person, discharge or bar a person from a job, discriminate in compensation or other terms or conditions of employment, print, circulate, or use any discriminatory statement, advertisement, publication, job application form, or make any inquiry in connection with prospective employment that is discriminatory.”

“It’s pretty clear that Mr. Campos was very qualified for this position and the offer was rescinded only because of his sexual orientation,” said Steve Bergman, Campos Gonzalez’s attorney. “We’re going to be challenging that and we’re going to be challenging under the Washington law of discrimination.”

Bergman also stated that, since Campos Gonzalez applied for a non-ministerial position at World Relief, NAE’s code of ethics and the ministerial exception that would exempt Campos Gonzalez based on his sexuality do not apply. Ministerial exceptions is a legal doctrine that gives religious institutions an exemption from federal employment discrimination laws.

“In a case like Mr. Campos Gonzalez, who is not expected to evangelize and not in one of those ministerial positions, why should that exception be granted to that employer in this instance?” Bergman said. “That’s where the challenge legally will be coming in.”

Amber D. Dodd's work as the Carl Maxey Racial and Social Inequity reporter for Eastern Washington and North Idaho primarily appears in both The Spokesman-Review and The Black Lens newspapers, and is funded in part by the Michael Conley Charitable Fund, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, the Innovia Foundation and other local donors from across our community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.

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