It’s just a little bit ironic that on this Good Friday, the Second Circuit decided a case that will be very important to religious institutions in Connecticut, New York and Vermont. Ultimately, it held that Title VII — which, among other things, prohibits discrimination based on race — is unconstitutional when applied to certain religious institutions, thereby confirming the existence of the "ministerial exception."
In Rweyemamu v. Cote (download here) , the Second Circuit decided an issue of first impression here. As the court noted, "This court has had no prior occasion to confirm the existence of the ministerial exception, and rarely an opportunity to discuss its scope."
And upon reflection, the court held, "we affirm the vitality of that doctrine in the Second Circuit. In our view, the ministerial exception is constitutionally required by various doctrinal underpinnings of the First Amendment."
The case arises from a lawsuit brought in Connecticut against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich. The Plaintiff, claimed that its Bishop, misapplied canon law in denying him a requested
promotion and, ultimately, in terminating him. Father Justinian Rweyemamu, an African-American Catholic priest, claimed racial discrimination in a Title VII suit against the Bishop and the
For any religious institutions in the state, this case should now be required reading and required consideration when faced with any employment-related decisions. The amount of protection that this exception offers — while not absolute — is significant. When my trial ends, I hope to provide more information about it, but for now, its worth taking a look at.
For those curious, both sides had notable Connecticut attorneys. The Plaintiff was represented by Norm Pattis, who has an amusing blog here as well as a weekly column in the Law Tribune. And, on a personal note, I used to work with Meredith Diette, who successfully represented the defendants in this case and wish her congratulations on the results she achieved for her client.