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Court punts on kosher ministerial exception

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in Human Resources,Overtime Labor Laws

Under Title VII, religious institutions that employ workers to engage in religious activities are exempt from complying with anti-discrimination laws under the so-called ministerial exception.

That is, employees performing religious services such as preaching or teaching religious doctrine aren’t covered by Title VII. Employees who perform nonreligious work are protected.

But what about minimum wage and overtime? Are ministerial employees entitled to protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? A federal court in Florida recently sidestepped the issue.

Recent case: Mauricio is a mashgiach—someone who certifies that food is kosher according to the requirements of the Jewish faith. He worked for a kosher catering company, ensuring that the facilities properly separated dairy, meat and nondairy food items. Mauricio had to be present at all times to check in new food as it arrived.

Mauricio sued, alleging that he had been paid below the minimum wage and hadn’t received overtime pay when he worked more than 40 hours per week.

The caterer asked the court to toss out the case because it viewed Mauricio’s work as religious in nature. Therefore, it said, he was subject to the ministerial exception. Mauricio argued that no court in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had yet applied the ministerial exception to the FLSA, and shouldn’t in this case.

The court concluded that it didn’t have to go there. Instead, it pointed out that the catering company wasn’t a religious institution or a nonprofit religious entity. It was a for-profit caterer that merely used a mashgiach as marketing tool. Mauricio wasn’t delivering religious services, but working for a private, profit-making food preparation establishment that depended on kosher certification for sales. (Altman v. Sterling Caterers, No. 11-21829, SD FL, 2012)

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