Articles Tagged with ministerial exception

Federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination and prohibit employers from making employment decisions based on factors such as race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, and age. These laws also protect employees against retaliation. In other words, employers are prohibited from subjecting employees to negative employment decisions, such as termination or demotion, because an employee engages in “protected activity” such as filing a discrimination charge with a federal or state agency.  Sometimes, discrimination laws clash with Constitutional concerns.  Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses the ministerial exception to religious discrimination claims.

In 2012, however, in Hosanna‐Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C., the U.S. Supreme Court adopted the ministerial exception doctrine. This exception is an affirmative defense that an employer can use to defend employment discrimination lawsuits. The Supreme Court has recognized that while there isn’t a strict formula to decide when the exception applies, it is usually the role performed by the employee and the religious activities of the employer that determines whether the exception applies.

On March 7, 2018, New York’s federal circuit court in Penn v. New York Methodist Hospital, decided a case based on the application of the ministerial exception doctrine.

Employers are prohibited from discriminating against its employees based, among other things, on race, gender, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or familial status. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against its employees. This means that an employer cannot punish an employee for engaging in legally protected activity. For example, if an employee complains either to a supervisor or to an outside agency (such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) about workplace discrimination and the employee subsequently suffers a negative employment action as a result of making the complaint, the employer has unlawfully retaliated against its employee.

However, the law is filled with exceptions. One of the exceptions to employment discrimination and retaliation is called the “ministerial exception.” This exception was recognized by the United States Supreme Court in 2012 in the Hosanna-Tabor case where the Court found that a fourth grade teacher, who taught mainly non-religious subjects at a religious school, could not sue her employer for retaliation.

The Ministerial Exception in Employment Discrimination Cases

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