Saturday, March 18, 2017

Ministerial Exception Does Not Apply To Exercise Science Teacher At Christian University

In Richardson v. Northwest Christian University, (D OR, March 16, 2017), an unmarried professor of exercise science at a Christian university sued for discrimination after she was fired because she became pregnant out of wedlock and refused to either marry her child's father or stop living with him.  The school contended that the professor's action were inconsistent with its policy that faculty are to live their lives in conformity with Biblical Christianity.  The court held that the "ministerial exception" doctrine does not require it to dismiss the lawsuit, saying in part:
[Plaintiff] was expected to integrate her Christianity into her teaching and demonstrate a maturing Christian faith. But any religious function was wholly secondary to her secular role: she was not tasked with performing any religious instruction and she was charged with no religious duties such as taking students to chapel or leading them in prayer. If plaintiff was a minister, it is hard to see how any teacher at a religious school would fall outside the exception.
The court granted plaintiff summary judgment on her marital status discrimination claim under Oregon law. It allowed her to move to trial on her claims of pregnancy discrimination and breach of contract.