The Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits workplace discrimination due to protected classes that include sexual orientation. In a case in Washington State with a law similar to the LAD, the case of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission v. Woods considers the interplay of sexual orientation and religious observation. In that case, a job applicant was denied a job to work at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission after he disclosed to the clinic’s director that he was bisexual and in a same-sex relationship as well.
The director stated that he would not be offered the job as the employee handbook expresses that paid staff abide by their statement of faith which declares “the Bible is the inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God.” The applicant disregarded the clinic director’s comments and applied for the job nonetheless in “protest” of the Gospel Mission’s employment policy. He failed to fill out multiple parts of the application and instead wrote on his cover letter to the employer to modify its religious practices. After he filled out the application, the clinic director met with him and stated that the Gospel Mission would not change its religious practices and furthermore that the job applicant did not comply with Gospel Mission’s “religious lifestyle requirements, did not actively attend church, and did not exhibit a passion for helping clients develop a personal relationship with Jesus.”
The job applicant filed suit against the employer alleging that it violated Washington’s Law Against Discrimination which prohibits discrimination against sexual orientation in the case of employment decisions. The Gospel Mission argued that this would violate the ministerial exception to the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights that a religious institution can impose religious values on employees. It also argued that it fell into the statutory exemption from the Washington Law Against Discrimination which excludes “any religious or sectarian organization not organized for private profit” from its definition of “employer.” The court found that the Gospel Mission did not violate the law as the ministerial exemption allows the Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission to deny employment due to religious beliefs.
The New Jersey Supreme Court is hearing arguments this year on a similar “ministerial exception” case in Crisitello v. St. Theresa School. Castronovo & McKinney represents Ms. Crisitello in that case.