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Termination of a "Whistleblower"

A court cannot intervene in the firing of a ministerial employee.


A Michigan court ruled that the "ministerial exception," which bars the civil courts from resolving employment disputes between churches and ministers, applies to whistleblower complaints. A parochial school employed a woman to teach math and religious studies for eight years. After a series of employment-related incidents, none of which involved the subject of religion, the school terminated the teacher's employment. She later sued the church and school (the "defendants") for violating a state law protecting "whistleblowers" from retaliation or other adverse employment actions. The defendants asserted that the teacher was a "minister" for purposes of the ministerial exception, and therefore the court was required by the First Amendment to dismiss the lawsuit.

A state appeals court described the ministerial exception as a "constitutionally compelled exception to the application of employment-discrimination ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • March 1, 2011