Thursday, October 06, 2022

School Counselor's Employment Agreement Sufficient To Invoke Ministerial Exception Doctrine

In Fitzgerald v. Roncalli High School, Inc., (SD IN Sept. 30, 2022), an Indiana federal district court invoked the ministerial exception doctrine to dismiss a suit brought by Michelle Fitzgerald, a Catholic high school guidance counselor who was fired after the school and the church that oversaw it learned that she was in a same-sex marriage. The court said in part:

Fitzgerald argues that Roncalli never entrusted her with religious teaching duties by raising numerous genuine factual disputes over what exactly she did at the school. She contends the record demonstrates that Roncalli entrusted her in description alone. She never engaged in religious teaching, nor did Roncalli expect her to....

[However,] Fitzgerald's employment agreement and Roncalli's description of Fitzgerald's expected duties are, alone, sufficient to resolve this case because those documents make clear that Roncalli entrusted Fitzgerald to teach the Catholic faith and carry out Roncalli's religious mission....

All this indicates Roncalli entrusted guidance counselors like Fitzgerald to convey the Church's message in addition to their secular duties. And under Seventh Circuit precedent, Fitzgerald's non-performance of these entrusted duties makes her "an underperforming minister" who may be removed pursuant to the ministerial exception.

Washington Examiner reports on the decision.