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Ministerial exception protects churches from bias lawsuits

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

While most employers have to follow federal and state anti-discrimination laws, there is a limited exception for religious organizations.

Under the ministerial exception, an employee hired to preach the organization’s religious beliefs can’t sue for discrimination.

Recent case: Frank, who is over age 40, was discharged from his job as a preacher for an African Metho­­dist Episcopal Church.

He sued, claiming age discrimination, harassment (alleging he had to work in a hostile work environment) and retaliation.

The court quickly dismissed his lawsuit, noting that as a preacher, Frank was ministering and delivering religious messages for the church.

That put him squarely in the ministerial exception to discrimination laws under the free exercise of religion clause in the Constitution. (Saunders v. Jefferson, et al., No. 5:12-CV-511, ED NC, 2013)

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