A bus driver in Texas received an extraordinary $21,000 settlement for conduct that justifiably led to his termination. Edwin Graning received the settlement from the Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) in Texas after he was fired for refusing to drive two women to a Planned Parenthood clinic last year. This seems a case of putting the CARTS before the horse in reaching a settlement before the other party has made a viable claim.
He then brought a lawsuit claiming that CARTS discriminated against him based on his religion because he was “concerned that he might be transporting a client to undergo an abortion.” The complaint said that Graning is “an ordained Christian minister who is opposed to abortion.” Graning was represented by the American Center for Law & Justice, founded by Pat Robertson.
The claim filed in Austin was, in my view, meritless as a matter of religious discrimination. CARTS members insisted that the costs of the litigation would have been greater than the settlement.
Burnet County Commissioner Ronny Hibler explained his support for the settlement: There’s a lot of things as a county commissioner that I don’t like, but I do it because it’s my job.” I would not say that giving money for frivolous claims is part of your job.
I am all in favor of settlements of meritorious claims that are costing more in litigation than necessary to secure a settlement. However, this is not a meritorious claim. Indeed, the claim would undermine a host of constitutional rights and public policies if bus drivers could refuse to drive citizens to places like Planned Parenthood. If there was one case that was worth fighting on principle, it was this one. Moreover, I do not believe this case would have been viable for very long. Indeed, this seems like a pretty desperate settlement by a man without a cognizable claim.
Except for the involvement of a religious rights legal groups, it would have the markings of a strike suit. In this case, the group probably felt that the benefit of receiving any money on such a claim would be the most significant victory. They are right. While CARPS is saying that it is now telling drivers that they must take citizens to their destinations without discrimination, that is hardly a policy that needed clarification. Instead, the settlement will be cited as a victory for those who want to claim policies of equal treatment are actually forms of religious discrimination.
The board members are now blaming their lawyers for recommending the settlement. If they did recommend the settlement, they were clearly giving bad legal advice. However, it is their duty to convey all such settlements. It is the responsibility of the board to refuse to pay a driver for discriminating against these women based on his assumptions over their medical needs or moral choices.
The question is now not whether Gibson will get money for his abusive treatment of passengers but whether citizens should be forced to continue to pay the salaries of CARPS board members.