Religious institutions '"ministerial exceptions," which protect them from employees' claims of discrimination in respect of employment and dismissal, do not include hostile environmental charges, says a divided federal appeals court in partially reversing a lower court decision.  The case concerns a former music director at a Catholic church in Calumet City, Illinois, who was reportedly subjected to a hostile work environment by a priest because of his homosexual sexual orientation and disabilities, according to Monday's ruling by the 7th American District Court of Appeals in Chicago Sandor Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, Calumet City and the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Mr. Demkovich, who was hired in 201
Mr. Demkovich claimed that his supervisor, Pastor Jacek Dada, exposed him to comments and epithets that showed hostility to his sexual orientation, which increased in frequency and severity after the priest learned that Demkovich intended to marry his partner, according to the decision.
After the ceremony, Pastor Dada demanded the resignation of Mr. Demkovich because his marriage was contrary to the teachings of the Church and dismissed him after he refused, according to the decision.
Pastor Dada is also alleged to "harass and humiliate" Mr. Demkovich because of his weight and according to medical issues.
Mr. Demkovich brought an action before the U.S. District Court in Chicago, prosecuting hostile environmental claims under both Section VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court dismissed the Title VII claim but allowed the ADA claim to continue.
The majority opinion of the Trial Judges' Appeals Panel confirmed the lower court's refusal to reject the ADA claim and reinstated the hostile environment of Claim VII. The
judgment cites two of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings: the 2012 judgment in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al. and the judgment earlier this year Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru.
In Hosanna-Tabor the Supreme Court found that a teacher at a church school who also taught secular subjects was covered by the ministry's exemption from federal discrimination law and could not pursue a fee under the ADA.
In Our Lady of Guadalupe, the court found that the ministerial exemption protected a couple of parochial schools from federal age and disability discrimination on charges related to the dismissal of two teachers.
Mr. Demkovich's case raises “a question of extending the (ministerial) exemption beyond hiring and dismissal decisions: the constitutional exemption should be extended to categorically prevent all hostile environmental discrimination claims from ministerial staff, even if there is no challenge for concrete employment measures such as hiring and firing ? Our answer is no, "states the decision.
Courts" have a long history of balancing and compromising to protect religious freedom while enforcing other important legal rights.
"The problem here is particularly sensitive and involves tensions between the freedom of religion and the right of employees to be free from dirty discrimination, also a compelling government interest," the decision states.
"The right balance is to prevent claims by ministerial staff that challenge tangible employment measures but to allow hostile environmental claims not to call into question concrete employment measures.
" Religious employers' control over concrete employment measures decision of remuneration, job assignments and the like – provides good protection for the free practice of religion
"The first amendment does not require full immunity from the sometimes terrible abuse that the defendants' brilliant rule would protect," the decision reintroduced of Demkovich's Title VII hostile environmental claims and reconsideration of the objective of further negotiation
The dissenting opinion stated: "The Church's first amending right to elect and control its ministers includes the ability to monitor, manage and communicate with them without government intervention.
"Assessing Demkovich's hostile working environment allegations will inevitably be avoided. And overly entangling the courts in religious matters at the core of the protected ministerial employment relationship." 19659003]