Saturday, July 15, 2017

2nd Circuit: Ministerial Exception Requires Dismissal of Sex Discrimination Claim By Catholic School Principal

In Fratello v. Archdiocese of New York, (2d Cir., July 14, 2017), the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals held that the principal of a Catholic elementary school is barred by the "ministerial exception" doctrine from pursuing her claim that gender discrimination accounted for the school's refusal to renew her contract. The court said in part:
... [T]he plaintiffʹs claims are barred because she is a minister within the meaning of the exception.  Although her formal title was not inherently religious, the record reflects that, as part of her job responsibilities, she held herself out as a spiritual leader of the school and performed many religious functions to advance its religious mission.
The court noted some of the tensions inherent in the doctrine:
The irony is striking.  We rely in part on Fratelloʹs supervisorsʹ and faculty officialsʹ prior praise of her performance of her religious responsibilities as proof that she could be fired for the wrong reason or without any reason at all.... This case thus lies at the center of the tension between an employerʹs right to freedom of religion and an employeeʹs right not to be unlawfully discriminated against. The ministerial exception, as we understand it to be interpreted by the Supreme Court, resolves that tension in this case against Fratello and in favor of the Archdiocese, the Church, and the School.
New York Law Journal, reporting on the decision, says plaintiff will seek en banc review.