Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Age Discrimination Law and Religious Organizations
Does federal age discrimination law apply to churches and religious schools?
Key point: Federal age discrimination law prohibits discrimination in employment decisions on the basis of the age of an applicant or employee who is 40 years of age or older. This law applies to some religious organizations.

A federal court in Pennsylvania issued an important ruling on the application of federal age discrimination law to religious organizations. A chef formed a food service company and later entered into a contract to provide meals for a Catholic monastery. The chef served for ten years, and was then dismissed. A monastery spokesman explained the dismissal by stating that the quality and variety of food had deteriorated. The chef sued the monastery claiming that it violated the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prevents employers with at least 20 employees and engaged in interstate commerce from discriminating in any employment decision on the basis of the age of an employee who is at least 40 years of age. The monastery asked the court to dismiss the case on the ground that the chef was not protected by the Act since he was not an employee of the monastery. It also claimed that the lawsuit was barred by the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom. The court refused to dismiss the case and ordered that it proceed to trial. It acknowledged that there was some evidence to support the conclusion that the chef was not an employee, including: (1) he insisted on being treated as an independent contractor for tax purposes, and received a 1099 rather than a W-2; (2) the monastery contracted with the chef's corporation for his services; (3) the monastery did not withhold taxes from the chef's pay; and (4) the monastery did not pay social security taxes for the chef, or extend to him any employee fringe benefit. However, the court concluded that there was evidence that the chef was an employee, and accordingly it could not dismiss the case. The court noted that in deciding whether or not a worker is an employee for purposes of federal civil rights laws, the courts must apply the "common law employee test". It quoted from a recent Supreme Court ruling that described this test (note the similarity to the test the IRS uses in defining employees for federal tax purposes):

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