Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation
Can religious organizations discriminate on this basis?

A federal appeals court ruled that a hospital chaplain could not sue the hospital for alleged age and sex discrimination following her dismissal. The former chaplain was an ordained Episcopal priest who had served as chaplain of a church affiliated hospital for 10 years. Following her dismissal, the former chaplain sued the hospital on the grounds that her dismissal (1) violated the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits certain employers from dismissing employees on the basis of their sex, and (2) violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which bans discrimination in employment against persons 40 years of age and older—on account of age. A federal district court rejected the former chaplain's claims. In reaching its decisions, the district court emphasized that the hospital was "a church-affiliated institution with substantial religious character," and that the former chaplain's position was "inherently religious." The court observed that the former chaplain had acted as a minister "by visiting hospital patients, reading the Bible to them, praying with them, performing baptisms, presiding at funerals, administering communion, performing chapel services, etc." These activities, concluded the court, "are inherently religious and so confer on [the] chaplain position its inherently religious nature." The court also rejected the former chaplain's claim that since her lawsuit alleged only age and sex discrimination, any consideration of the ecclesiastical nature of her duties was inappropriate. It noted that the hospital had asserted that the dismissal was based in part on the former chaplain's failure to follow "liturgical requirements," and accordingly any review of her dismissal would inevitably involve the court in ecclesiastical considerations.

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Posted: March 2, 1992
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