Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Indiana Supreme Court Interprets Civil Rights Commission Jurisdiction Over Educational Matters Narrowly

In Fishers Adolescent Catholic Enrichment Society, Inc. v. Bridgewater, (IN Sup. Ct., Jan. 6, 2015), the Indiana Supreme Court held that the state's Civil Rights Commission exceeded its authority when it adjudicated disability discrimination and retaliation claims growing out of a dispute between members of a group ("FACES") created to provide homeschool high schoolers with Catholic educational, spiritual, and social enrichment. A family filed a discrimination complaint with the Civil Rights Commission when FACES refused to make health-related dietary accommodations for their daughter at an "All Souls' Day Masquerade Ball" dinner-dance. The complaint led to the family's being expelled from FACES.

The Indiana Civil Rights Law, Sec. 22-9-1-3(l), bars discriminatory practices only when they relate to "the acquisition or sale of real estate, education, public accommodations, employment, or the extending of credit." The Supreme Court said:
The dinner-dance at which Mrs. Bridgewater contends that FACES failed to accommodate her daughter's food allergy furthered ... Catholic spiritual and social enrichment. It was not an occasion for the teaching of academic subjects as part of the student's curriculum.... The alleged disability discrimination thus occurred at a quasi-religious social function, not an educational one. To expansively interpret "relating to . . . education," ... to apply to this dinner would convert almost every occasion of parental guidance and training into an activity "related to education." This would eviscerate the function of "related to education" as a legislative prerequisite for the Commission's enforcement powers.
Justice Rucker dissented.

Thomas More Society issued a press release announcing the decision.