Former Lutheran Synod Employee Loses Sex Discrimination Case

Job loss was due to budgetary reasons, court said.

Church Law and Tax 1993-07-01 Recent Developments

Employment Practices

Key point: The dismissal of an employee on account of budgetary considerations does not constitute sex discrimination.

A federal court in Pennsylvania ruled that a female employee of a Lutheran synod was not a victim of sex discrimination when her position was eliminated due to the merger of her synod with other synods. In 1974, a woman was hired by the Western Pennsylvania-West Virginia Synod of the Lutheran Church in America as a coordinator of planning and communications. In 1984, the Lutheran Church in America, along with two other national church organizations, adopted a plan to merge into one body. As a result of this decision, the Synod’s operations were scheduled to cease in 1987. The Synod did in fact cease operations in 1987. During the fall of 1984, the Synod considered the effect of the upcoming merger on its operations. The executive board determined that the merger, with its centralization of activities, would result in less need for planning responsibilities at the Synod. As a result, the executive board decided to eliminate the position of coordinator of planning and communications. In 1985, the woman who had occupied this position for ten years was dismissed with three months’ severance pay. No one, male or female, was hired to replace the dismissed worker. Quite to the contrary, the time spent by Synod staff for planning greatly decreased following the woman’s dismissal. Further, the budget for 1986 and 1987 reflected a significant decrease in the time projected for planning and communications. The dismissed employee filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Synod, alleging that it had been guilty of sex discrimination in terminating her employment. The court dismissed the lawsuit. It observed:

[T]he 1984 decision of the three national Lutheran churches to merge had a significant impact on the future needs and direction of the Synod. Reflecting on these material changes, and their potential impact on the Synod’s operational needs, the executive board of the Synod concluded that the coordinator of planning and communications position held by [the female employee] was expendable. While one may lament the fact that business principles and methods (e.g., budgets, income statements and time reports) have crept into our religious organizations, and regret the economic and personal pain that such bottom-line orientation caused the [dismissed employee] in this case, this hand-wringing will not create a cause of action [for sex discrimination] where none exists. Yost v. Western Pennsylvania-West Virginia Synod of the Lutheran Church in America, Inc., 789 F. Supp. 191 (W.D. Pa. 1992).

See also “Freedom of religion,” Vigars v. Valley Christian Center, 805 F. Supp. 802 (N.D. Cal. 1992), in the recent developments section of this newsletter.
See Also: The Civil Rights of 1964

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