Local News

Being alone with female deputy violated religious beliefs, fired Lee deputy says in lawsuit

Posted August 8, 2019 5:40 p.m. EDT

— A former Lee County deputy claims the Lee County Sheriff's Office violated his religious beliefs by forcing him to work one-on-one with a female deputy and then firing him when he complained.

Manuel Torres, 51, is seeking reinstatement, back pay and punitive damages against the sheriff's office and the police departments in Apex and Siler City in the federal lawsuit, which was filed last week.

Torres said in the lawsuit that he worked with the sheriff's office from October 2012 until he was dismissed in September 2017. He said he was ordered to train a female deputy and that he repeatedly asked for a "reasonable religious accommodation" to get out of the training.

"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 states. "[Training] would include the requirement that he spend significant periods of time alone in his patrol car with the female officer trainee ... and leaving the appearance of sinful conduct on his part."

Torres, who serves as a deacon at East Sanford Baptist Church, said his superiors initially granted his request for accommodation, but they then started complaining about it and ultimately denied it, according to the lawsuit.

The irritation within the department over Torres' request even led to deputies not providing him backup following "a multi-vehicle accident in an unsafe area in which Torres had to tase two fighting suspects and a gun was present on the scene," the lawsuit states. An officer from a neighboring jurisdiction eventually provided backup for him, according to the suit.

After leaving the Lee County Sheriff's Office, Torres said, he tried to get jobs with police departments in Siler City and Apex. But his former superiors disparaged him to officials in those police departments, leading to Siler City rescinding a job offer and Apex never calling him back, the lawsuit alleges.

The actions of the three agencies amount to religious discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the lawsuit.