Breaking-News1.jpgOn Thursday, June 19, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court in Lane v. Franks held that the First Amendment protects a public employee who provides truthful sworn testimony, compelled by subpoena, outside the scope of his or her ordinary job responsibilities.  In so holding, the Court overturned precedent from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the

Whistle.jpgWhen Labor Code section 1102.5, generally referred to as the “whistleblower” statute, was enacted in 1984, the Legislature intended to encourage employees to report violations of state and federal laws by their employers without fear of retaliation.  The statute endured for nearly 20 years before it was first amended in 2003.  It has now been

Healthcare.jpgThis blog post was authored by Jessica R. Frier

Employers should update their whistleblowing, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies to reference new protections provided to employees by the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). 

What is Prohibited?  ACA’s anti-retaliation provisions prohibit an employer from retaliating against an employee who:

  1. Receives a health insurance tax credit or subsidy

DNA2.jpgIn the 1997 science fiction film Gattaca, the main character Vincent lives in a futuristic world where success is based on an individual’s genetic profile instead of experience or education.  Because Vincent’s genes are considered inferior, he assumes the identity of a genetically superior man in order to avoid discrimination based on his genetics. 

Determining what constitutes an “adverse employment action” is critical when an employee sues for retaliation and/or discrimination.  In order to be able to sustain a claim for either retaliation or discrimination, an employee must sufficiently prove that he/she suffered an adverse employment action.  This issue was recently addressed by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of

Police Cars.jpgUpdate: On December 11, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided to re-hear Dahlia v. Rodriguez en banc. Accordingly, public agencies can no longer rely on the three-Judge panel opinion discussed below. A panel of eleven Judges will re-hear the appeal. The opinion of that en banc panel of the

Jury.jpgThe California Court of Appeal recently highlighted a fundamental flaw in the California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”) on a cause of action for retaliation in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).  The instruction is missing the element of retaliatory intent or animus.  This flaw has not been brought to the forefront previously

This post was co-authored by Michael Blacher

Supreme-Court.jpgOn January 11, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, No. 10-553, in which the Court recognized for the first time the existence of the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws.  That exception allows religious organizations, including religious schools, to make employment decisions affecting “ministers” without being subject to anti-discrimination laws.  The ministerial exception is a judicial creation rooted in the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment clauses, and has been applied for many years by federal and state courts. 

Most observers of the Court expected it to recognize the exception, as it did.  But the more difficult question was how broadly the Court would view the exception.  That is, who qualified as a “minister?”  The Hosanna-Tabor case involved not an actual “minister” – or priest, rabbi, or other individual with strictly religious duties – but a teacher at a religious school who instructed primarily on secular topics. 

The facts of Hosanna-Tabor are as follows (as reported in our earlier blog post of October 11, 2011 following oral argument in the case).  Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School operates a church and an elementary school.  It has two types of faculty: (1) limited-term “lay” or “contract” teachers and (2) for-cause “called” teachers.  Called teachers must complete a course of religious study and receive a certificate of admission into the teaching ministry.  They receive the title of “commissioned minister.”

In 2000, Cheryl Perich began work as a contract teacher but shortly thereafter changed her status to a “called” teacher.  Her employment duties remained essentially the same.  She taught math, language arts, social studies, science, gym, art, and music.  However, Perich also taught a religion class four days per week, attended a chapel with her class once a week, and led her classes in prayer.

In 2004, Perich went out on disability leave.  The School Board ultimately offered Perich a “peaceful release” agreement wherein she would release claims against the School in return for a monetary payment.  When Perich refused and threatened legal action, however, the Board fired her.  It gave the religious reason (as the Supreme Court described it) that “her threat to sue the Church violated the Synod’s belief that Christians should resolve their disputes internally.”

Perich filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) for disability discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the EEOC decided to litigate the charge of retaliation on her behalf.  The district court determined that Perich was covered by the ministerial exception and granted summary judgment to the School.  But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed.  It found that because most of Perich’s job duties did not have a religious character, and because her “primary” functions were secular, the ministerial exception did not apply. 

This week, on January 11, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, held that the ministerial exception did apply.  The opinion began its discussion by describing that both of the “religion clauses” of the First Amendment (the Free Exercise clause and the Establishment clause) “bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers.”  The opinion then recited the history of government interference, or at times deliberate non-interference, in religious organizations’ employment decisions, from the Magna Carta through the Cold War.  The opinion uses this concise narration of history and case law as a prelude to its holding recognizing the existences of the exception.

After acknowledging the existence of a ministerial exception, the Court set about defining its breadth and limitations.  The Court’s noted that “Every Court of Appeals to have considered the question has concluded that the ministerial exception is not limited to the head of a religious congregation, and we agree.  We are reluctant, however, to adopt a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister.  It is enough for us to conclude, in this our first case involving the ministerial exception, that the exception covers Perich, given all the circumstances of her employment.”Continue Reading Supreme Court Recognizes That The “Ministerial Exception” Under The First Amendment Precludes Retaliation Claim Brought Under The ADA

This post was co-authored by Michael Blacher

God said “Be fruitful and multiply.”  But does that make a math teacher at a religious school a “minister?”  The United States Supreme Court will soon decide.

On October 5, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC