Employment Practices – Part 2

A federal court in New York ruled that a denominational agency could not be sued for the sexual harassment of a church employee by two pastors.

Church Law and Tax2005-07-01

Employment practices – Part 2

Key point 8-08. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers engaged in commerce and having at least 15 employees from discriminating in any employment decision on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, or religion.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964

* A federal court in New York ruled that a denominational agency could not be sued for the sexual harassment of a church employee by two pastors because she was not an “employee” of the denomination. A woman (Ruth) was hired by a church to operate the parish office. Her responsibilities included maintaining finances, accounting of incoming money, banking deposits, managing financial reports, cutting payroll checks, paying monthly bills, scheduling church and community functions at the parish hall, addressing parishioners telephone inquiries, and preparing bulletins. In addition to these responsibilities, she worked closely with parishioners and their families for baptisms, funerals, weddings, and other services. A few years after Ruth was hired, the church’s senior pastor handed her a “floppy disk” and instructed her to print a letter that was contained on the disk. When she opened the disk she discovered that it contained pornographic images. When she asked the pastor why he gave her a disk with pornographic images, he allegedly responded, “What do you think?” Ruth told him that his behavior was unacceptable. Following this incident, Ruth claimed that the pastor increased his supervision over her, ridiculed her in front of others, accused her of incompetence for incorrect financial statements and the loss of a $25,000 donation check. Ruth also claimed that the church’s associate pastor sexually harassed her. She alleged that on several occasions when she was away from her office she returned to find the associate pastor in her office looking at pictures of nude men on her computer.

Ruth reported the actions of both pastors to the church’s business administrator, who recommended that Ruth contact a denominational office (regional church) for assistance. A denominational official went to great lengths to resolve her complaints, but was unsuccessful in doing so. As a result, Ruth sued the regional church for sexual harassment and sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits employers having at least 15 employees and engaged in interstate commerce from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or religion. The law defines “sex” to include sexual harassment. The court dismissed Ruth’s claims on the ground that the regional church was not her “employer.” It noted that “the question of whether someone is or is not an employee under Title VII usually turns on whether he or she has received direct or indirect remuneration from the alleged employer.” And, “the remuneration may be in the form of a salary or consist of substantial benefits not merely incidental to the activity performed.” The court concluded that Ruth was not an employee of the regional church under this test, and as a result could not sue the regional church for a violation of Title VII. Krasner v. Episcopal Diocese, 328 F.Supp.2d 367 (E.D.N.Y. 2004).

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