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.