Key point 9-07. The First Amendment allows civil courts to resolve internal church disputes so long as they can do so without interpreting doctrine or polity.
A Michigan appeals court ruled that a trial court was not barred by the “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine” from resolving a dismissed church employee’s age discrimination claim against her former church if it could do so without resorting to church doctrine.
A female employee (the “plaintiff”) had worked for a church for over 30 years. At the time of her termination, she was employed as the church’s business manager. In 2012, the church hired a new senior pastor. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff claimed that the new pastor began asking her “when are you going to retire,” and generally treating her with disdain and hostility.
In 2015, the tensions between the plaintiff and the pastor came to a head when the pastor discovered that the plaintiff was receiving an additional five weeks of vacation pay in addition to her regular weekly salary.