The 39-year-old pastor was applying for a temporary position with the diocese in Strängnäs to fill an extended vacancy, which had for the time being been filled by retired pastor in his seventies.
While at first responding with enthusiasm upon receiving an application from the woman in June, the vicar subsequently told a fellow diocese employee that he knew the applicant was “one of those.”
When the employee asked if the vicar was referring to the applicant pastor’s sexual orientation, he added that he had promised the diocese leadership that none of “them” would be allowed to join the diocese.
He went on to express concerns about having a lesbian pastor and her girlfriend living on parish grounds and about having her instruct confirmation classes.
In early August, the pastor emailed another staff member at the diocese to inquire about the status of her application, but received a response that the person was on vacation.
In the message, she questioned why the parish would choose to have a retired pastor over a younger unemployed pastor.
Shortly thereafter, the vicar emailed the 39-year-old to say that her services were no longer required by the diocese and that the elderly pastor would continue in the position.
Two weeks after receiving the vicar’s rejection, the lesbian pastor received a response from the staff member she had originally emailed which referred to the parish’s preference for older pastors as a latent form of discrimination.
At the time, the applicant pastor assumed the email referred to age discrimination.
In September, however, she learned about the vicar’s previous statements about her sexual orientation and realised that she had been passed over for the job because she was a lesbian.
“This is an important case because it involves exactly the kind of thing that we don’t think should be allowed to happen,” Vida Paridad, a lawyer with the Örebro Rättighetscenter, an anti-discrimination organisation which helped the pastor with her case, told The Local.
“Namely, that someone be denied a job, not because they lack the right skills or competence, but because of their sexual orientation,” she explained.
According to Paridad, her organisation generally attempts to get the parties involved in discrimination cases to sit down to discuss the matter in order to reach a common understanding.
After the vicar refused repeated attempts for a meeting to discuss the matter, the rights group in turned filed a complaint on her behalf with Sweden’s Equality Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen – DO) on behalf of the pastor.
While proving workplace discrimination is always hard, Paridad was confident about the lesbian pastor’s case.
“It’s seldom that you have an independent witness who can testify that discrimination has taken place. But, in this case we have someone who has come forward and that makes this a very strong case,” she said.
When reached for comment by the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper, the vicar, who now works as a pastor in another parish, refused to comment.