• Key point 8-12. Many state civil rights laws prohibit employers with a specified number of employees from discriminating in any employment decision on the basis of the sexual orientation of an employee or applicant for employment. Such laws generally exempt religious organizations.
* A New York court ruled that a church could be sued by a former employee for discriminating against him on the basis of his religion and sexual orientation. A homosexual, Jewish man was employed by a church in an administrative capacity. The employee claimed that his supervisor acted in a hostile manner toward him because of his sexual orientation and religious background, and that she undermined him in his job performance and treated him differently than she did heterosexual employees. The employee alleged that on one occasion his supervisor said to him, "I wonder how the officers would feel if they knew they had a Jewish fag working for them." The employee claimed that he reported the harassing behavior to church officials, but was reprimanded for doing so and within a few weeks was dismissed. The former employee sued the church, claiming that it was responsible for its supervisor's acts of religious and sexual orientation discrimination. He asked the court to award him back pay, front pay or reinstatement, compensatory and punitive damages, interest, attorney's fees, and costs.
The church argued that it was exempt from the anti-discrimination provisions of the civil rights laws of the State of New York and New York City. The court conceded that both laws permit religious organizations to limit employment or give preference to persons of the same religion or denomination, or to promote the religious principles of the organization. However, the court noted, 'those limited exemptions for religious organizations are a far cry from letting them harass their employees and treat the employees in an odiously discriminatory manner during their employment, and to use derogatory expressions toward the employees …. Thus, the claims cannot be dismissed due to defendant's status as a religious organization.