The line between employment termination that is unlawful and employment termination that is unfair is extremely thin. Thanks to a recent ruling in California, that line may have just become even thinner. Religious discrimination is illegal in California, yet two teachers were seemingly wrongfully terminated for just such a reason, and when they filed a lawsuit, the courts sided in favor of the school. It comes down to a conflict of legal rights and protections, and the complexities are quite fascinating.
It all started when a religious organization purchased the school at which the two teachers were working and moved the curriculum in a more Christian, religion-oriented direction. The school then asked for reference letters from the pastors of school employees asking many things including how frequently the teacher attended church. Two teachers refused. Because of this refusal, school officials chose not to renew the teachers’ contracts.
This seems like a clear case of wrongful termination, since the teachers were seemingly fired for choosing not to reveal whether or not their faith and religion were in line with the school’s curriculum. However, back in 2012, religious organizations became exempt from federal discrimination laws because of a Supreme Court ruling. Even though the school was not a church or other nonprofit entity, the California state court ruled that the exemption could be claimed for the teachers.
It is legal complexities like this that truly emphasize just how important legal assistance is in employment law cases. The average person could not be expected to anticipate clashing legal protections, and they certainly would not know how to react if they were presented with such a case. An experienced attorney can help you prepare for instances like this, and offer you sound counsel to navigate around the issue should it arise.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Judge rules religious school within its rights to dismiss 2 teachers,” Jerome Campbell, March 29, 2015