North Carolina

NC deputy fired after refusing to train a woman. Now he’s suing for discrimination.

gavel in courtroom
gavel in courtroom Getty Images/iStockphoto

Manuel Torres, 51, is a devout Southern Baptist who sometimes serves as a deacon at East Sanford Baptist Church in Sanford, North Carolina. Up until 2017, he was also a deputy in Lee County.

Torres said he was fired from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office after declining to train a new female hire alone — a violation of his Christian beliefs under the so-called Billy Graham rule. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in North Carolina federal court, the former deputy is now seeking more than $300,000 in damages for religious discrimination.

“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 suit states.

The order to train a female deputy would reportedly require him to “spend significant periods of time alone in his patrol car with the female officer trainee,” the lawsuit said.

“The job duty of training female deputies, in such a manner, violates (Torres’) religious beliefs against being alone for periods of time with female(s) who is/are not his wife and leaving the appearance of sinful conduct on his part,” the suit states.

Torres said he asked for a religious accommodation that would exempt him from the training in July 2017, according to the lawsuit, but he said his sergeant ultimately denied the request.

After Torres reportedly brought his concerns to higher-ups in the department, he said in the complaint, the sergeant retaliated by allegedly failing to respond to a call for backup “in an unsafe area in which Torres had to tase two fighting suspects, and a gun was present on the scene.”

In early September 2017, one of Torres’ superior officers also reportedly “expressed his anger” at the repeated requests for religious accommodation.

Less than a week later, Torres said he was fired without explanation.

“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 complaint states.

Along with his claims for religious discrimination against Lee County Sheriff Tracy Lynn Carter, Torres also accused the towns of Siler City and Apex of retaliation.

He said the Siler City Police Department rescinded a conditional offer of employment and the Apex Police Department never responded to his job inquiries after they learned about the requests for religious accommodation from his former department in Lee County.

The reported firing and rejections caused Torres a “loss of income and benefits; loss of quality and enjoyment of life; (and) loss of reputation,” according to the complaint. In addition to the $300,000 in compensatory damages, he is seeking $15,000 in punitive damages.

Representatives from the Lee County Sheriff Office and the town of Siler City did not respond to McClatchy newsgroup’s requests for comment on Friday. A spokesperson from Apex said the town does not comment on pending litigation.

Hayley is a Real Time reporter at The Charlotte Observer covering breaking news and trending stories in the Carolinas. She also created the Observer’s unofficial bird beat (est. 2015) with a summer full of ornithological-related content, including a story about Barred Owls in love.