Thursday, May 04, 2017

Teacher's Defamation Verdict Against Archdiocese Upheld

In Gallagher v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 2017 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 148 (PA Com. Pl., April 11, 2017), a Pennsylvania Common pleas court upheld a $508,000 jury verdict in a defamation suit by a 6th grade "lay teacher" in a Catholic school against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  The school administration had accused plaintiff Cindy Gallagher of unethical teaching practices in connection with a study guide she compiled to prepare her students for a standardized test. The court held that it was not required to defer to religious authorities because "the cheating incident was not conceived as an ecclesiastical matter only appropriate for religious resolution." It also concluded that the "ministerial exception" doctrine does not apply because Gallagher was a lay teacher, saying in part:
labeling Appellee as a minister of the church based on her role in prayer with her students and her participation in obtaining mandatory religious credits to be a teacher at the school would expand the scope of the ministerial exception beyond its intended purpose.