Mark Armitage is a fossil hunter. He was also the manager of the California State University, Northridge’s (CSUN) biology department’s electron and confocal microscopy suite. But after making a discovery he dreamed of for years in May of 2012, he was fired.
While digging in Montana, Armitage found one of the largest Triceratops horns ever discovered in the Hell Creek Formation, which is a legendary stack of fossil-bearing rocks said to date to the last days of the dinosaurs. He drove the discovery back home to Los Angeles, California, and put it under the microscope. His study revealed both fossilized bone and preserved layers of soft tissue. He was shocked. He published his findings in February of 2013 in Acta Histochemica, a journal of cell and tissue research. He was fired two weeks after publishing on his findings.
He is now in the middle of what many view as a long shot legal battle. His intentions? He wants his job back. He filed a wrongful termination suit claiming religious intolerance as motivation for his dismissal. Armitage is a young-Earth creationist. He also states that his findings of soft tissue in the fossil support his belief that his Triceratops horn and other similar specimens date to the time of the “flood” referred to in the Holy Bible. An event he dates at about 4,000 years ago. Armitage claims that associates at the University could not stand working alongside a creationist who had his work published in a legitimate scientific journal. He feels this is the reason for his termination.
Those in support of the University point out that religious intolerance claims in this case may have a hard time standing up if the case goes to trial. The associate vice-president of marketing and communications at CSUN stressed during an email communication that Armitage’s position at the university was “temporary.” Armitage also openly admits to engaging students in discussions frequently on topics related to his personal beliefs and the well-preserved cells in the Triceratops horn as proof that they’re young – no more than 68 million years old according to Armitage. US anti-discrimination laws require employers to accommodate employee religious beliefs and practices to a reasonable degree unless doing so causes the employer “undue hardship.”
In this particular instance, Armitage’s personal and/or religious views were such that the institution/employer’s goals were undermined when Armitage shared his thoughts and beliefs with various biology and/or paleontology students.
If you have been wrongfully terminated and you need expert advice on how to proceed, get in touch with the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.