The Little Oaks Private School, a Christian school based in Thousand Oaks, California, recently filed a lawsuit against two of its former teachers after they threatened a lawsuit. The teachers were fired last August when they refused to fill out forms that included questions about their faith, their church attendance and required an endorsement from their pastor. Counsel for the teachers responded to the terminations by notifying the school that the teachers had a right to file a lawsuit under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and making a settlement demand.
The school is asking a federal court for a declaration that the teachers cannot sue the school, arguing that all religious organizations have the right to retain employees who share their religious faith. The teachers will counter by alleging that although the school was purchased by a church, it has been operated as a ”for-profit” institution rather than a “nonprofit,” and therefore does not have the right to discriminate based on religion.
While a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has confirmed that federal discrimination laws do not apply to religious organizations’ selection of religious leaders, the distinction of a nonprofit v. profit organization was not at issue. Can a nonprofit church purchase a for profit entity and then determine to operate it in a manner that would violate state and federal religious discrimination laws with impunity? It seems unlikely that any court would answer this question in the affirmative, but that is precisely what this lawsuit will serve to determine.
This blog is presented under protest by the law firm of Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP. It is essentially the random thoughts and opinions of someone who lives in the trenches of the war that often is employment law–he/she may well be a little shell-shocked. So if you are thinking “woohoo, I just landed some free legal advice that will fix all my problems!”, think again. This is commentary people, a sketchy overview of some current legal issue with a dose of humor, but commentary nonetheless; as if Dennis Miller were a lawyer…and still mildly amusing. No legal advice here; you would have to pay real US currency for that (unless you are my mom, and even then there are limits). But feel free to contact us with your questions and comments—who knows, we might even answer you. And if you want to spread this stuff around, feel free to do so, but please keep it in its present form (‘cause you can’t mess with this kind of poetry). Big news: Copyright 2013. All rights reserved; yep, all of them.