Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Religious Employer Immune from Title IX Claim

A federal district court recently confirmed that religious educational institutions are exempt from Title IX when making employment decisions affecting clergy. The case involves the claims of a former nun, Lynette Petruska, who was demoted from her position as chaplain at Gannon University and forced to resign after she blew the whistle on a priest's affair. Title VII, the basis for her initial claim, was deemed inapplicable to Gannon by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals because of the ministerial exception to Title VII, which derives from the institution's First Amendment freedom of religion.

Petruska sought leave to amend her complaint to include a Title IX claim, since Title IX duplicates Title VII's protection of school employees from sex discrimination, but (as we predicted), the court held the ministerial exception to Title VII is equally applicable to Title IX. It doesn't matter which statute offers protection from discrimination, reasoned the court, because the exception "is rooted in a source of law higher than legislative enactments--namely, the First Amendment of the Constitution."

Citation: Petruska v. Gannon University, 2008 WL 2789260 (W.D. Pa. Mar 31, 2008).