TABOR, IA — A grocery store owner in Iowa has been ordered to pay unemployment benefits to a former employee who quit her job after she was questioned about her personal lifestyle and exhorted to read the Bible.
Tyler Stille owns Tabor Market and Deli and is known for his strong Christian beliefs. He told reporters this week that he is up front with prospective employees about his faith before they are hired.
“We have a Christian fish symbol on our sign,” Stille explained. “Before we hire anybody, we tell them our faith. We play Christian music in our store all the time, and we always make sure that’s OK with them because that’s a part of our life.”
In September 2011, he hired Sherri Chafin, who is not a Christian, but said she didn’t have an issue with Stille’s Biblical beliefs—until those beliefs intersected with her personal life.
Chafin, who now works at a sexually-oriented shop, told the Des Moines Register this week that she quit her job months later after being questioned about her living arrangement and exhorted to read the Scriptures. She then filed for unemployment.
“[Stille] told me that I should read one Psalm, or one chapter, per day, something like that,” she testified at her unemployment hearing. “He asked me if I was receiving food stamps, or any welfare, or anything like that. He told me that if I was, it was unjust because I worked and I lived with my roommate—who is my boyfriend and we’re not married.”
“I was crying,” she said. “He was very intimidating.”
But Stille told the court that wasn’t what happened. He said that Chafin had made an inappropriate comment to a customer, and so he asked his wife to bring him his Bible as he wanted to read Chafin a few Proverbs. Stille stated that Chafin became “belligerent” and began “crying hysterically,” so he walked out of the room when communication became useless.
“We had talked Bible-talk for quite some time [in the past] and, in fact, Sherri, in December, had given us a very beautiful religious card thanking us not only for employment and everything we had talked about and what have you,” he told the court. “So I guess I am a little dumbfounded that all of a sudden she has an issue with Christianity.”
At the end of the hearing, Administrative Judge Julie Elder sided with Chafin, stating that Stille was wrong for imposing his beliefs on Chafin and ordered him to pay unemployment.
“He effectively held her hostage in his office and lectured her regarding his religious and moral beliefs and her alleged shortcomings in his eyes,” Elder ruled, calling Stille’s actions “inappropriate, unacceptable and unprofessional.”
Stille said that the decision was troublesome and that he didn’t believe the government had the right to tell him how to run his grocery store as a Christian business owner.
“It’s just a lot of baloney and it’s more of government getting involved where it shouldn’t,” he told the Des Moines Register. “I’m just really frustrated with the whole mess.”