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Two Ohio cases will test ‘ministerial exception”

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to uphold the “ministerial exception” that exempts religious institutions from having to comply with some employment laws has cleared the way for two lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Both had been put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s ruling.

In one of the Cincinnati cases, a former teacher’s aide is seeking damages against the diocese, claiming it violated her rights under the FMLA.

In the second, a technology co­­ordinator at a Catholic school said she was fired after church leaders learned she had become pregnant through artificial insemination, a practice the church considers immoral.

The woman claims the diocese ­violated the Pregnancy Discrimina­tion Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The Title VII charge alleges the church would treat males who contributed sperm to sperm banks differently than women who become pregnant through artificial insemination.

In both cases, the diocese claims the “ministerial exception” applies, exempting them from complying with any employment laws.

Both cases were held in abeyance until the Supreme Court ruled in EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School. In that case, the High Court decided a teacher who was “called” to teach at the school (as opposed to lay teachers) fell under the ministerial exception because she had undergone religious training and helped the church convey its message and accomplish its mission.

The courts will examine these two cases to determine whether the ministerial exception applies.

Note: Religious employers may wish to have employees sign a statement acknowledging that part of their role is to minister to others and that the “ministerial exception” ­covers them.

That may deter lawsuits, but the courts will ultimately decide each case on its particular circumstances.

Another option is for religious em­­ployers to voluntarily abide by anti-discrimination laws in areas that do not deal with issues of conscience.

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