Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Courts and Non-Minister Employee Disputes
Key point 8-10.2. Some courts have not recognized the ministerial exception, usually because the complainant was not a minister in either status or function, or was employed by a secular organization.
Key point 9-07. The First Amendment allows civil courts to resolve internal church disputes so long as they can do so without interpreting doctrine or polity.

A New Mexico court ruled that the First Amendment did not prevent it from resolving a claim of wrongful termination by a teacher at a church-operated elementary school. An adult female (the "plaintiff") was employed as a teacher by a church-operated elementary school from 2009 to 2011. She alleged that she was sexually harassed by her supervisor in the summer of 2010. She reported her complaint to church officials, who issued a written reprimand to the supervisor. She claimed that her supervisor later retaliated against her, which ultimately led to the termination of her employment. She further claimed that the school and church breached her employment "contract" by terminating her despite assurances that she would be employed for the following school term. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit, claiming that the school was liable on the basis of breach of contract; and that the supervisor and other school officials were liable on the basis of retaliatory discharge, violation of the state Human Rights Act, intentional interference with contract, and defamation. The plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages, interest, attorney fees, and costs.

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Posted: February 20, 2015
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