GA settles lawsuit with preacher it fired

Friday, February 10, 2017
 | 
Charlie Butts (OneNewsNow.com)

gavel with Bible 2A legal settlement has been reached between a part-time preacher and the State of Georgia. 

First Liberty Institute announced Feb. 9 that the George Department of Public Health has settled Dr. Eric Walsh's lawsuit, agreeing to pay Walsh $225,000 to end a 10-month legal fight.

Walsh was hired in May 2014 as a district health director only to be fired weeks later after DPH officials reviewed the lay preacher's sermons.

Walsh, a lay minister with the Seventh Day Adventist denomination, filed a religious discrimination lawsuit with help from First Liberty and an Atlanta law firm.

Asked by OneNewsNow what sermon topic upset the state officials, First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys says that was never revealed in the court filings.

"We know that he's preached on everything from Genesis to Revelation, and everything in between, so it's never been real clear what they had a problem with," Dys tells OneNewsNow.

But it was clear that the sermons upset DPH officials, attorneys for Walsh alleged to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a 10-page letter. The attorneys pointed to emails that flew back and forth among DPH state officials as word spread of Walsh's hiring and more people viewed his online preaching.

After the settlement was announced, state officials claimed that Walsh was fired for not disclosing "outside employment" to his previous employer in California, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

The non-disclosure to California was discovered during a background check after he was hired, a DPH spokesperson told the newspaper.

Yet the state agency was obviously interested in Walsh's sermons topics, too, First Liberty learned during the legal fight.

Dr. Eric WalshFirst Liberty pointed to an email in which a DPH human resources director asked fellow employees to spend the weekend viewing Walsh's sermons on Youtube. Walsh was fired the very next day. 

Walsh's attorneys also pointed to a phone voicemail left for Walsh by the state's medial director, Dr. Patrick O'Neal.

"We will be sending you a letter, so be on the lookout for that," O'Neal tells Walsh.

But the phone call kept recording after O'Neal concluded the call, and Walsh's attorneys heard O'Neal and the DPH chief financial officer discussing the tone of the letter and laughing about it.

"I'm gonna be very – I'm gonna try to come off as very cold, because I don't want to say very much," a woman identified as CFO Kate Pfirman says.

"No, just be neutral," O'Neal replies. "You know, you're out."

The brief newspaper story failed to mention the DPH emails and the voicemail recording, which were evidence during the legal proceedings.  

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