In Sarmiento v. Marquez, (ND CA, Nov. 10, 2022), a California federal district court dismissed religious discrimination and retaliation claims against county social work personnel who attempted, ultimately unsuccessfully, to remove a foster child from plaintiffs’ care. The court explained:
Plaintiffs contend that, as they were proceeding toward adoption of the child in their care, County social worker Luz Sanclemente asked Sarmiento whether she “[believed] in God,” and whether she “[believed] in Jesus Christ.” … Plaintiffs allege that defendants thereafter sought to remove the child from their care in “retaliation for not appearing to be Christians.”
However, the court concluded:
Sanclemente’s query into plaintiffs’ beliefs … did not at all “coerce [them] into acting contrary to their religious beliefs or exert substantial pressure on [plaintiffs] to modify [their] behavior and to violate [their] beliefs.” … Plaintiffs do not identify any action they took differently based on Sanclemente’s questioning. Plaintiffs do not represent that Sanclemente offered a quid pro quo, such as continued custody of the child in exchange for plaintiffs’ conversion to Christianity….
A First Amendment claim for retaliation requires a “substantial causal relationship” between a plaintiff’s “constitutionally protected activity” and “adverse [government] action . . . that would chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in the protected activity.”,,,
Here, the [complaint] only speculates that there was a relationship between (1) plaintiffs’ response to Sanclemente that they are not Christians and (2) defendants’ actions to remove the child from plaintiffs’ care….