Thursday, September 20, 2007

Third Circuit Finds JCC Entitled To Title VII Religious Exemption

Yesterday, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, issued an important decision interpreting the scope of the religious institutions exemption in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In LeBoon v. Lancaster Jewish Community Center Association, (3rd Cir., Sept. 19, 2007), an Evangelical Christian bookkeeper who lost her job at a Jewish Community Center claimed that the JCC was not entitled to claim an exemption from religious discrimination claims under Section 702 of the Civil Rights Act (42 USC 2000e-1(a)). She argued that the JCC "lacked financial or administrative ties with a synagogue and its nature and purposes were primarily cultural, not religious." The majority, however, disagreed, finding "the LJCC was entitled to the protection of Section 702 during the period under scrutiny because its structure and purpose were primarily religious."

Judge Rendell, dissenting, argued that "Congress understood § 702(a) to cover only those entities that, unlike the LJCC, are controlled by a religious sect." He said that the majority's approach places the court in the position of analyzing the activities of religiously inclined organizations to determine which are religiously meaningful.

The court unanimously rejected a retaliation claim by the plaintiff, crediting instead the JCC's explanation that LeBoon was terminated because of the financial problems the JCC was experiencing.