RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is paying a $300,000 legal settlement to a former magistrate who resigned under duress because she said her religious beliefs prevented her from marrying gay couples.
The settlement finalized in late January and made public Wednesday includes about $210,000 in lost pay and retirement benefits, in addition to attorneys’ fees.
Gayle Myrick was a Union County magistrate who resigned in 2014 after federal courts made gay marriage legal in North Carolina. State court officials then issued guidelines that local magistrates who perform marriages should comply with the federal ruling.
After preparing a resignation letter, Myrick met with her supervisors in the local court system and asked if an accommodation could be made to allow her to work without performing gay marriages. The local judge who oversaw her said the state guidelines didn’t allow such flexibility and accepted her resignation, according to legal documents filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
An administrative law judge working on behalf of the commission ruled last year that Myrick’s employer failed to accommodate her religious beliefs as required under federal employment law. The judge, Michael Devine, found that her departure was not truly voluntary because declining to perform gay marriages would have subjected her to removal.
Myrick issued a statement Wednesday that she believes the case could have been resolved within her office if she’d been allowed a schedule change to let her avoid performing marriages.
“I have always wanted to find a way to protect everyone’s dignity,” she said.
Current North Carolina magistrates don’t face the same dilemma as Myrick because state lawmakers enacted a law in 2015 allowing magistrates to decline to perform same-sex marriages by citing religious beliefs. A magistrate using that provision must sit out all marriages, gay and heterosexual, for six months. A challenge to that law was rejected by a federal appeals court last year.
In Myrick’s case, lawyers for the state appealed the administrative judge’s ruling to a higher EEOC office, but later chose to settle without admitting fault, according to a copy of the agreement. A spokeswoman for the North Carolina Justice Department, which represented the state, declined to comment Wednesday.
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