A federal district court in Ohio rejected a religious school's claim that it was exempt from federal age discrimination law.
Xavier University is a Catholic institution of higher education operated by the Order of Jesuits. An employee brought an age discrimination lawsuit against the University. The University claimed that the court lacked jurisdiction over the case, since, as a religious institution, it was exempt from the antidiscrimination provisions of the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").
The court agreed with the employee that the ADEA "gives no indication that religious institutions are exempt from its provisions." However, it also acknowledged that a religious institution could be exempted on the basis of the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom if application of the ADEA to the institution would "give rise to serious constitutional questions" under the religious freedom clause of the first amendment. The court concluded that no "serious constitutional questions" were implicated by an application of the ADEA to the University and accordingly the claim of an exemption was rejected.
In 1979, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) did not apply to church-operated schools since serious constitutional questions would be implicated by an application of the Act to such schools, and there was no evidence of an "affirmative intention of Congress clearly expressed" for church-operated schools to be covered under the Act. This test for evaluating the application of federal laws to church-controlled schools has not been successfully applied in other contexts. Perhaps it will remain limited to union organizing efforts under the NLRA.
Soriano v. Xavier University, 687 F. Supp. 1188 (S.D. Ohio 1988)