Sanford, NC – A former Lee County sheriff’s deputy has filed a lawsuit against his former employer and two other law enforcement agencies that alleged he was discriminated and retaliated against for invoking the “Billy Graham Rule” and refusing to spend extended time alone with a female deputy.
Former Lee County Sheriff’s Deputy Manuel Torres, 51, has claimed in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in North Carolina federal court that the problem started when he was asked to train a new female deputy, The Charlotte Observer reported.
The lawsuit said the training would have required then-Deputy Torres to “spend significant periods of time alone in his patrol car with the female officer trainee,” which was something that the deputy just didn’t do.
“Torres holds the strong and sincere religious belief that the Holy Bible prohibits him, as a married man, from being alone for extended periods with a female who is not his wife,” the lawsuit explained.
In July of 2017, Deputy Torres, a Southern Baptist who sometimes serves as a deacon at East Sanford Baptist Church, told his sergeant that he couldn’t train the female deputy and asked for a religious exemption, FOX News reported.
But his sergeant denied the request, The Charlotte Observer reported.
He took his complaint higher up the chain of command and his sergeant retaliated by not sending backup as requested “in an unsafe area in which Torres had to tase two fighting suspects, and a gun was present on the scene,” the lawsuit claimed.
The lawsuit alleged that a superior officer “expressed his anger” at Deputy Torres’ repeated requests for religious accommodation in September of 2017, and then less than a week later, the deputy was fired, The Charlotte Observer reported.
“Defendant LCSO fired Plaintiff because he continued to request a religious accommodation from a job duty that violated his sincerely held religious beliefs and complained about religious discrimination,” the lawsuit said.
But the lawsuit said it wasn’t over when Torres left the Lee County Sheriff’s Office because the department had spread the word about the former deputy’s religious exemption requests.
He said he was discriminated against when the Siler City Police Department rescinded a conditional offer of employment and that the Apex Police Department failed to even respond to his inquiries about employment, The Charlotte Observer reported.
The complaint asked for $300,000 in compensatory damages for “loss of income and benefits; loss of quality and enjoyment of life; (and) loss of reputation.”
The former deputy has also sued for $15,000 in punitive damages.
The police agencies named in the complaint either failed to respond to requests for comment or said they would not comment on pending litigation, according to The Charlotte Observer.
The timing of the lawsuit was interesting because a Mississippi gubernatorial candidate has been under fire recently after he invoked the “Billy Graham Rule” and refused to allow a female reporter to shadow him for a day without bringing along a male colleague.
The reporter complained that GOP Mississippi State Representative Robert Foster’s campaign said “they believed the optics of the candidate with a woman, even a working reporter, could be used in a smear campaign to insinuate an extramarital affair," Business Insider reported.
Foster argued that allegation and said he had made the refusal because of his faith.
"The liberal left lost their minds over the fact I choose not to be alone with another woman,” he tweeted. “They can't believe, that even in 2019, someone still values their relationship with their wife and upholds their Christian Faith."
Civil rights attorneys have speculated that the candidate’s campaign bus isn’t exempt from federal anti-discrimination laws, Business Insider reported.
Vice President Mike Pence has also been faulted for following Christian principles in doing his job.
The Vice President was heavily criticized after he revealed, during a 2002 interview, that he never dines alone with a woman who is not his wife and that he avoids attending events where alcohol is served without his spouse, Business Insider reported.