Morals Clause Ruled Not Within Title VII Religious Exemptions

Reposted with permission from Holland & Knight

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." The statute includes two religious exemptions. Section 702(a) exempts "a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities." Section 703(e)(2) states it is not an "unlawful employment practice for a school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning to hire and employ employees of a particular religion if such school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning is, in whole or in substantial part, owned, supported, controlled, or managed by a particular religion or by a particular religious corporation, association, or society, or if the curriculum of such school, college, university, or other educational institution or institution of learning is directed toward the propagation of a particular religion."

The reach of the section 702 and 703 religious exemptions as compared to the prohibition on sex discrimination contained in Title VII as interpreted in Bostock v. Clayton Cnty., 140 S.Ct. 1731 (2020) was reviewed in Billard v. Charlotte Catholic High Sch., 3:17-cv-00011, 2021 WL 4037431 (W.D. N.C. Sept. 3, 2021). Due to its code of conduct or morals clause, Charlotte Catholic High School chose not to give additional substitute teacher assignments to a teacher after he publicly announced his same-sex wedding. The school argued that it did not punish the plaintiff for being homosexual, but for his advocacy against the Catholic Church's religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. The court rejected this defense. "[S]ince this Court has decided that sex was a but-for cause of Plaintiff's removal, Defendants do not qualify for section 702 or 703 protection." The court went on to rule that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was not available as a defense to the school on the theory that RFRA does not apply against private parties. The school stipulated that the plaintiff was not a minister, but the court analyzed the question anyway on the merits and agreed.

For additional "Key Cases" updates, read the full article from Holland & Knight here.


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