Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Court Barred from Settling Sexual Harassment Claim

Key point 8-10.1. The civil courts have consistently ruled that the First Amendment prevents the civil courts from applying employment laws to the relationship between a church and a minister.

Key point 8-12.5. 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 appeals court ruled that the ministerial exception barred a church organist’s sexual harassment claim against his employing church for its creation of an offensive working environment through unwelcome verbal conduct of a sexual nature. An adult male (the “plaintiff”) served for two years as “Music Director, Choir Director and Organist” for the Archdiocese of Chicago and a local parish (the “church defendants”). His immediate supervisor was the parish priest. The priest knew that the plaintiff was gay and that he was engaged to another man. During the plaintiff’s two years of employment, the priest allegedly made remarks critical of the plaintiff’s sexual orientation.

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