Thursday, April 23, 2015

Employment Discrimination Suit Dismissed On Ministerial Exception Grounds

In Preece v. The Covenant Presbyterian Church, (D NE, April 22, 2015), a Nebraska federal district court held that the ministerial exception doctrine requires dismissal of employment discrimination claims by a church's former Director of Youth Ministry.  Richard Preece claimed that his employment was terminated in violation of Title VII and the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act because he obtained a divorce and in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment by a pastor who was his direct supervisor.  The court held:
The plaintiff’s job duties reflected a role in him conveying the defendant’s message and carrying out its mission..... In this case, the defendant’s treatment of the plaintiff in relation to his sexual harassment allegation clearly implicates an internal church decision and management, rather than the outward physical acts of one pastor. Accordingly... this court finds the plaintiff’s sexual harassment claim is factually entwined and related to the plaintiff’s other claims, which the court may not review without excessive government entanglement with religion in violation of the First Amendment.