Employment Practices – Part 2

An Ohio court refused to review a decision by a church-operated school to dismiss a teacher for entering into a marriage in violation of church teachings.

Church Law and Tax2005-09-01

Employment practices – Part 2

Key point 8-08.1. 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. Religious organizations are exempt from the ban on religious discrimination, but not from the other prohibited forms of discrimination.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964

* An Ohio court refused to review a decision by a church-operated school to dismiss a teacher for entering into a marriage in violation of church teachings. A teacher (Mary) at a Catholic parochial school was dismissed after she entered into a marriage that her church determined was invalid under church teachings. The Catholic Church does not recognize a marriage as valid if either party to the marriage was previously married and if that prior marriage was not properly annulled. This teaching was incorporated into the school’s employee handbook and teaching contracts. Mary was previously married, and her prior marriage had been annulled. But, her husband, who also was divorced, was a Protestant and his prior marriage had not been annulled. When the church refused to annul his prior marriage, he and Mary proceeded with their wedding, which led to Mary’s dismissal. She sued the church on the basis of age discrimination, noting that she had been replaced by the 23-year-old daughter of the school’s assistant principal. A trial court dismissed Mary’s lawsuit, and she appealed.

A state appeals court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the case on the ground that resolving Mary’s age discrimination claim would require a court to rule that the church’s teachings on marriage and annulment were a mere pretext for an underlying intent to discriminate on account of her age. The court concluded that it was prevented by the first amendment religion clauses from reaching such a conclusion. However, the court did rule that Mary could pursue a legal claim against the church and school for accrued salary and fringe benefits. Potts v. Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, 823 N.E.2d 917 (Ohio App. 2004).

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