New Jersey: Religious Tenets Exception is an Affirmative Defense to Discrimination Claim


All Employers with Employees in NJ


August 14, 2023



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Quick Look

  • Employers prove a religious tenets of faith exception to a discrimination claim.
  • A challenged employment decision must be based solely on employment criteria adopted under the tenets of the employer’s religion.


In Crisitello v. St. Theresa School, the New Jersey Supreme Court said that a faith-based school may claim the religious tenets exception to a discrimination claim when it relies on the teachings of its faith to set employment policies, provided it meets certain criteria. The Court clarified that the burden to assert and prove the religious tenets exception, as an affirmative defense, is on the employer. To do so, the employer must prove that the challenged employment decision was based solely on employment criteria that were adopted under the tenets of its religion. Successfully proven, the affirmative defense is “an absolute bar to liability.”

There, a child caregiver advised her employer that she was pregnant and was subsequently fired for engaging in premarital sex in violation of the school’s Catholic teaching. She claimed discrimination based on marital status and pregnancy. However, teachers were required to follow the Code of Ethics under the Archdiocese of Newark’s Policies on Professional and Ministerial Conduct which required them to adhere to the teachings of the Church. The employee handbook also indicated that teachers should serve “as positive role models for their students.” The employee also signed an acknowledgment of the polices. Ultimately, the employee provided no evidence that the reason for termination was other than what the employer claimed.

Action Items

  1. Review policies for reflection of tenets of faith.
  2. Document employee acknowledgment of employer policies.
  3. Consistently apply employer policies.

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. © 2023 ManagEase