Physician Assistant Valerie Kloosterman wants her job back after she was called “evil” by a diversity director and then fired when she expressed biblical views on gender identity.
Her lawyers say she was quickly fired from job at the University of Michigan Health -West system, even after a perfect 17-year record of outstanding patient care. They are asking the University of Michigan Health-West (UMH-West) to reinstate her, grant a religious accommodation, and spare others from “similar discrimination.”
First Liberty Institute, a respected non-profit law firm specializing in religious liberty, represents Kloosterman. This isn’t their first rodeo. In June, First Liberty won two U.S. Supreme Court rulings upholding religious freedom and has asked the court to consider hearing two more such cases this fall.
The law firm is very busy in the current cultural climate and the how faith is treated in the public arena.
Kloosterman, a 42-year-old married mother of four (including triplets), was dismissed more than a year ago. She turned to First Liberty in a last-ditch effort to get her job back, said Jordan Pratt, senior counsel at the firm’s office in Washington, D.C.
Pratt and Kloosterman’s other attorneys accuse UMH-West of violating her rights to freedom of speech, religious expression, and nondiscrimination in employment, as guaranteed by state and federal law.
“Before firing Ms. Kloosterman, Michigan Health blatantly denigrated her religious beliefs, attempted to compel her to speak against her conscience, discriminated against her for her religious beliefs, and refused to reasonably accommodate her religious beliefs,” First Liberty said in a Sept. 27 letter.
First Liberty sent the letter to UMH-West in an attempt to avoid legal action, but stands ready to proceed, Pratt said. Kloosterman’s former employer has asked First Liberty for more time to draft a detailed response to the 11-page letter.
In an email, Chris Zoladz, head of public relations and communications for UMH-West, stated, “University of Michigan Health-West is committed to providing appropriate medical treatment to all patients and respects the religious beliefs of its employees. Our organization does not discuss personnel issues and as such, has no further comment.”
The job loss hit Kloosterman especially hard because her career path followed those of her mother and grandmother; all three women worked in health care at the same location, Caledonia Health Center, a clinic south of Grand Rapids. “She’s a third-generation health care worker, and, in every sense of the word, an exemplary physician assistant,” Pratt said.
Issues culminating in Kloosterman’s dismissal arose between May and June 2021, when her employer required her to complete a training module about sexual orientation and gender identity. Because of Kloosterman’s religious beliefs, she was unable to honestly “check the boxes” that affirmed the statements, the letter said.
Kloosterman decided to disclose her dilemma to a UMH-West official, and “to seek a reasonable accommodation for her religious beliefs,” her lawyers wrote.
Someone with less integrity might have kept those personal beliefs secret and quietly complied with checking the boxes, Pratt said. No one might have ever known how she really felt.
But “Valerie did not hide who she is,” Pratt said. “What an example of character and honesty.”
Kloosterman’s disclosures revealed “her authentic self,” Pratt said. Such expression is often celebrated in diversity and inclusion programs. Yet, in an ironic twist to Kloosterman’s saga, she was fired because her beliefs differed from the prescribed views of UMH-West’s diversity program.
As a longtime member of a United Reformed Church, Kloosterman believes the Bible when it says that God created humans as males and females, and no one should “attempt to erase or alter his or her sex,” her lawyers wrote.
Kloosterman also believes she must speak and act in accordance with her religious beliefs. Therefore, she cannot use “pronouns that contradict a person’s biological sex,” the letter said.
During her tenure at the clinic offering internal, family and pediatric care, Kloosterman encountered just two patients who seemed to prefer pronouns differing from their biological sex; Kloosterman simply referred to those patients by their names and avoided pronouns, thus respecting their wishes without compromising her beliefs.
Kloosterman’s lawyers cite a 2021 federal court finding that “public colleges and universities violate the First Amendment when they coerce their employees to use sex-obscuring pronouns” in jobs requiring freedom of expression.
After raising her religious concerns, Kloosterman met with UMH-West leaders twice in July 2021; at one of those meetings, a leader of UMH-West official grew “hostile” toward Kloosterman, “visibly angry with tight fists and a flushed demeanor,” her attorneys’ letter said. That official told Kloostermann “she could not take the Bible or her religious beliefs to work with her, literally or figuratively.” In addition, he cited Kloosterman’s gender-identity beliefs and said “she was to blame for transgender suicides, and that she was ‘evil,’ and abusing her power as a health care provider,” her lawyers wrote.
She was fired about a month after the final meeting. Later, UMH-West wrote a letter stating that her gender-identity beliefs got her fired. Her former employer also alleged that Kloosterman altered medical records to change patients’ pronouns, “a false charge” that Kloosterman continues to deny, her lawyers wrote. Kloosterman “did not even have the ability to change” records in which a patient’s gender was pre-filled, they say. “Only office staff had that ability,” the lawyers wrote.