7th Circuit: Ministerial Exception Does Not Bar Hostile Work Environment Claims

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August 31, 2020

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In Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, Calumet City, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal stated that the ministerial exception does not bar hostile work environment claims under federal employment discrimination laws. Religious organizations may claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws in employment relationships with employees who have ministerial duties that meet the ministerial exception. The Seventh Circuit stated that this exception may not extend to situations beyond hiring and firing decisions.

There, a church music director was gay and had diabetes and related medical conditions. The employee was ultimately terminated because he entered into a gay marriage. However, he alleged that while he was employed, his supervisor created a hostile work environment by regularly humiliating and belittling him based on his sexual orientation and disability statuses. The Seventh Circuit said that the employee’s hostile work environment claim could proceed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Specifically, the court stated that (1) the First Amendment does not bar all hostile environment claims by ministerial employees; (2) the risk of procedural entanglement in such cases is modest because religious organizations have no generalized claim to immunity from litigation or regulation; and (3) in hostile environment cases brought by ministerial employees, there is some risk of substantive entanglement, but that risk does not appear so severe that all such claims must be dismissed. As a result, employers in the Seventh Circuit should review their policies and practices to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

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  1. Have policies and practices to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws.
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Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2020 ManagEase

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