A Christian woman in Michigan who served 17 years as a physician assistant for Michigan Health filed a lawsuit against her former employer last week after they allegedly terminated her because of her “sincerely held religious beliefs” regarding gender.
“I’m heartbroken,” Valerie Kloosterman told Fox News Digital. “I had 17 years that I spent with patients and families, coworkers who sometimes I spent more time with than I did with my own family. And they took that away. They took away the relationships that I had built up, and the people who trusted me for their care.”
“It was over something that could have easily been accommodated based on the University of Michigan’s focus on being inclusive,” Kloosterman added.
The University of Michigan Health-West (UMH-West) in Wyoming, Michigan, allegedly terminated Kloosterman in 2021 after she sought religious accommodation that would exempt her from having to use transgender pronouns or refer patients for transgender surgical procedures and drugs, which she said violates the teachings of her Christian faith. She claimed that while she was expected to affirm such things in theory, she had never encountered a situation with a patient that would have required her to do so.
Lawyers with the First Liberty Institute who are representing Kloosterman sent a letter to UMH-West last month demanding her reinstatement, but they filed a suit against the nonprofit health system on Oct. 11 after it failed to respond.
“Defendants targeted Ms. Kloosterman for termination because she requested an accommodation for her religious beliefs,” her lawyers said in the complaint. “Defendants also violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, as incorporated against the states via the Fourteenth Amendment, when they granted secular accommodations to other employees regarding common drugs and medical procedures while failing to grant a religious accommodation to Ms. Kloosterman regarding much more rare drugs and medical procedures.”
“There was mandatory training that all employees were required to take with a multitude of questions,” Kloosterman explained regarding the initial incident that led to her termination.
“Two of the questions that year were very specific in confirming that gender was fluid, and I had to select the box. It was not an option for me to state my concerns, and I could not complete this mandatory test without answering that question the way they wanted me to based on the university’s belief, and so I raised my concerns,” she continued.
Kloosterman said that after going to her supervising provider office manager with her objections, she was forwarded to UMH-West’s department of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), which allegedly led to a tense meeting.
“I said I’m a Christian, which means I’m a Christian physician assistant, and I cannot answer these questions in good conscience to God and understanding the harm it can do to my patients; this is not fair,” Kloosterman recounted of her conversation with DEI.
“The meeting became hostile,” Kloosterman said. “I was called evil. I was called a liar. And I very compassionately gave my point of what my concern was from a medical standpoint from my medical judgment, as well as in good conscience to God, and I should never have been asked to compromise my faith to be able to do my job.”
Kloosterman said she was “stunned” by the response from the organization that publicly prides itself on being inclusive, and she alleged that her meeting with DEI quickly became “very personal” and that they were evidently not interested in having a dialogue with her.
“Even when the meeting was over, I said, ‘Let’s talk about this, let’s continue this discussion,'” said Kloosterman. “I was promised that they would, and I heard nothing after that other than at my termination meeting.”
UMH-West announced earlier this year that it had been dubbed a “top performer for LGBTQ+ healthcare equity” by the Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBT activist group.
“Our mission requires us to relentlessly advance health for West Michigan — and there is no room in that mission to exclude anyone,” UMH-West CEO Dr. Peter Hahn was quoted in the announcement. “I’m proud of our team’s commitment to inclusion as one of our core values and their enthusiasm to keep building on our progress.”
Kloosterman said that when she was ultimately fired, she said tearful goodbyes to coworkers whom she had known for many years and whose kids had grown up with hers. She said many of her coworkers expressed support privately but that they were likely left in the dark regarding the reasons behind her termination.
When reached for comment by Fox News Digital regarding Kloosterman’s case, a UMH-West spokesperson said: “University of Michigan Health-West is committed to providing appropriate medical treatment to all patients and respects the religious beliefs of its employees. We are confident Ms. Kloosterman’s claims, like those she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, are without merit.”
Kloosterman said she was especially hurt by how UMH-West allegedly took a hypothetical situation and spun it to misrepresent her position against transgender procedures as anything other than an attempt to be compassionate, uphold her religious convictions and fulfill her Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.”
“I cry less often, but the tears still come,” she said.
Kloosterman said that while her Christian faith has been tested by her ordeal, it remains strong.
“I pray simply that the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart would be pleasing to God, that God would be glorified in this, and that his truth would be heard,” she said. “Nobody has to compromise their faith for their job.”