Second Circuit: Court of Appeals Further Defines Who is Subject to the “Ministerial Exception”


All Employers with CT, NY, or VT Employees in Religious Organizations


June 30, 2017


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In Fratello v. Archdiocese of New York, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals provided important guidance on determining whether or not an employee may be classified under the “ministerial exception.”  The “exception” precludes employees who may be classified as a “minister” from making employment discrimination claims against the religious entities that employ them. A “minister” is determined by evaluating, among other things, the employee’s formal title, the substance reflected in the title, the employee’s use of the title, and the important religious functions performed.

In Fratello, a former Lay Principal of a Catholic elementary school alleged that she was terminated on the basis of gender discrimination; the school claimed that, under the ministerial exception, Fratello was not covered by anti-discrimination protections and was barred from bringing a claim. Although Fratello argued that her job title of Lay Principal indicated that she was not a minister, the Second Circuit stated that job title alone does not determine an employee’s classification.

According to the circuit court, the “most important consideration” in the case, and in determining the applicability of the ministerial exception, is whether—and to what extent—Fratello performed important religious functions for the organization. Upon evaluation of Fratello’s duties—which included tasks such as leading daily student and faculty prayers, supervising the teachers’ integration of religious values into lessons, and delivering religious commencement speeches—the court indicated that Fratello’s duties established her status as a minister for the purpose of applying the exception.

Based on this ruling, religious employers are recommended to review employees’ job duties to determine whether they fall under the ministerial exception, and must take caution to not merely label all employees working in a religious organization as ministers in order to circumvent anti-discrimination regulations.

Action Items

  1. Read the Second Circuit court’s opinion here.
  2. Consult with legal counsel before taking disciplinary actions against employees, to determine if they fall under the ministerial exemption.
  3. 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.

© 2017 ManagEase, Incorporated.

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