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‘Ministerial exception’ isn’t free pass for religious groups to discriminate

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

If your organization is a religious institution, you may not have adopted anti-discrimination policies or practices because you think you can rely on the “ministerial exception.” But, as a new case shows, that may not always be the case. You can still be sued if the alleged discrimination in your workplace has nothing to do with religion or religious practices.

A number of federal appeals courts are willing to entertain lawsuits against religious organizations when the discrimination at the heart of the case is unrelated to religion. That means religious organizations must start doing what other employers have done for a long time: develop and enforce strong anti-discrimination and harassment policies.

Recent case: Lynette Petruska was a chaplain at Gannon University, a Catholic educational institution. She sued for sex discrimination and retaliation, claiming the university forced her out for advocating on behalf of alleged victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The university demanded the case be dismissed, noting that constitutional provisions exempt religious institutions from coverage under Title VII. But the 3rd Circuit disagreed, saying the case could go on because the alleged discrimination had nothing to do with religious practices or religion. (Petruska v. Gannon University, et al., No. 05 1222, 3rd Cir., 2006)  

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