Fired Gay Catholic Church Choir Director Can Sue for Harassment

Gay City News

September 2, 2020

By Arthur S. Leonard

A three-judge panel of the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on August 31 that a gay man fired as music director by a Catholic church after he married his boyfriend can sue the church on a claim he was subjected to a hostile work environment by his supervisor, a priest, because of his sexual orientation and physical disabilities.

The US Supreme Court has defined a “ministerial exception” to anti-discrimination law — based on the First Amendment’s Free Exercise of Religion Clause — that protects religious organizations from being sued about their decisions to hire or terminate employees who can be described as “ministers,” a category broad enough to include a music director responsible for liturgical hymns used in services.

Here, however, the appeals panel voted 2-1 that the ministerial exception does not apply to an employee’s claim that his employer has subjected him to a hostile work environment for reasons prohibited by anti-discrimination laws.

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