SIOUX CITY -- A federal jury on Wednesday found that an Iowa state agency did not fail to accommodate a former worker's religious practices prior to firing him for continuing to use the words "In Christ" on his email messages at a Cherokee, Iowa, sex offender treatment unit.
Michael Mial had said that his former supervisors at the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders, located on the Cherokee Mental Health Institute campus, had discouraged him from including the message on his email signature and asked him to keep his religion separate from his work.
At the conclusion of a three-day trial in U.S. District Court in Sioux City, jurors determined that Mial did not prove his failure to accommodate religious practice claim.
Mial's attorney, Jeffrey Janssen, of Des Moines, could not be reached for comment. A DHS spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Mial sued the DHS and several individuals at the sex offender unit in January 2017, saying his firing violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and exercise his religion. Claims against the individuals were later dismissed.
The lawsuit said Mial, who was in his probationary period after being hired as a psychiatric security specialist, was fired in April 2016 after a performance review in which supervisors told him his religious faith was beneficial to patients at the sex offender unit, then asked him to keep his religion separate from his work because he began using "In Christ" in the personalized signature block that appeared in internal emails sent to other employees.
Mial had argued in the lawsuit that allowing him to use "In Christ" in his email signature would not be a state endorsement of religion and that other employees who used signature blocks such as "Go Hawkeyes," in reference to University of Iowa athletic teams, were not disciplined,
Mial was seeking compensation for lost wages and damages to compensate him for humiliation, embarrassment, emotional pain, suffering and mental anguish.