Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment
Court rules that church employee's behavior does not qualify as harassment.

Key point. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It consists of both "quid pro quo" harassment and "hostile environment" harassment. Religious organizations that are subject to Title VII are covered by this prohibition. An employer is automatically liable for supervisory employees' acts of harassment, but a defense is available to claims of hostile environment harassment if they have adopted a written harassment policy and an alleged victim fails to pursue remedies available under the policy. In some cases, an employer may be liable for acts of sexual harassment committed by nonsupervisory employees, and even nonemployees.

A federal court in North Carolina dismissed a church employee's allegations of sexual harassment on the ground that the offending behavior, even if true, was not sufficiently severe to amount to harassment. A church hired a woman (the "plaintiff") as its director of music. As part of her job duties, the plaintiff worked with various musicians and was the staff member in charge of monitoring electronic equipment usage. A few years later the church hired a seminary student (Tim) as its youth director. The plaintiff worked with Tim occasionally, and saw him at weekly staff meetings. She later met with the church's senior pastor, pursuant to the church's personnel policy, and made the following allegations of sexual harassment:

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Posted: March 1, 2009
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