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Court Dismisses Discrimination Suit Filed by Christian School Teacher

The federal district court ruling said the court had stayed briefing on St. Peter's motion to dismiss the case pending the Supreme Court's decision.

August 7, 2012
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Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on ministerial exceptions to employment discrimination law, a federal district court judge has dismissed a discrimination lawsuit filed by a teacher in a Christian school.

Janet Herzog became a "called" teacher at St. Peter Lutheran School in Arlington Heights, Ill., after she had completed a special course of study and received a Minister of Religion Commissioned Diploma of Vocation, according to the Aug. 1 ruling in Janet Herzog vs. St. Peter Lutheran Church and St. Peter Lutheran School by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.

In June 2009, the school's principal told Herzog he was proposing her termination, based on budgetary constraints, and she was terminated about six months later. Herzog filed a lawsuit charging discrimination based on age, sex and marital status in violation of federal and state law in October 2011.

The court pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this year in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. EEOC in its ruling dismissing the case.

In that ruling, the Supreme Court said a religious school could claim a ministerial exception to a discrimination charge for a teacher, Cheryl Perich, who also taught secular subjects.

The federal district court ruling said the court had stayed briefing on St. Peter's motion to dismiss the case pending the Supreme Court's decision. "Now that the Supreme Court has spoken definitively on the issue, we consider the merits of St. Peter's motion to dismiss," said the ruling.

"Each of the factors that the Supreme Court considered in Hosanna-Tabor are present here," said the district court ruling. Both schools held their called teachers out as ministers; Perich and Herzog received theological training followed by a formal commissioning process; and both "held themselves out as ministers of their churches," said the ruling by Judge Charles P. Kocoras.

"Herzog has failed to sufficiently distinguish her case form Hosanna-Tabor," said the court, in granting the church summary judgment dismissing the case.

Judy Greenwald writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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