7th Circuit: Ministerial Exemption Applies to Hostile Work Environment Claims


All Employers in IL, IN, WI with Ministerial Employees


July 9, 2021


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In 2020, 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. More recently, the Seventh Circuit reviewed the case en banc and reversed the original opinion.

Specifically, the Seventh Circuit en banc now stated that the ministerial exception prohibits hostile work environment claims that arise under employment discrimination laws, in part, because the risk of entanglement in religious matters is excessive. Originally, the court limited the ministerial exception to hiring and firing decisions but eliminated its extension to ongoing employment decisions. In contrast, the court sitting en banc stated that ongoing employee supervision is as equally important to organizational autonomy as managing hiring and firing decisions. This view differed significantly from the original opinion which found only a modest risk of entanglement and potential interference in religious internal governance. With this shift, employers in the Seventh Circuit should again review their policies and practices to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

Action Items

  1. Have policies and practices to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws.
  2. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

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.

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