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NJ Appeals Court Expands Scope of Discrimination Law’s Ministerial Exception

State and federal laws protect employees from discrimination on account of their religion or other protected personal characteristics. However, there is a major exception. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses prevent courts from applying anti-discrimination laws to religious organizations hiring or firing ministers. For example, a woman who is denied a job as a priest in a Catholic church cannot sue for gender discrimination.

The ministerial exception is also followed by courts applying the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Now, a state appeals court has expanded the exception to prevent ministers from suing religious organization for causes of action besides discrimination.

The plaintiff in the case, Hyman vs. Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, is a rabbi who taught elementary students at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish school in the town of River Edge. When Shlomo Hyman was accused of inappropriately touching female students, the yeshiva hired a law firm to investigate, confirmed the accusations and ultimately fired him. Hyman sued, alleging age discrimination, breach of contract, defamation and other causes of action. A lower court dismissed the age discrimination claim based on the ministerial exception. It also granted summary judgment dismissing all of Hyman’s other claims, stating that the exception applied with equal force to them as well.

The appeals court noted that neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the Supreme Court of New Jersey has ever ruled on whether the ministerial exception applies to claims not related to discrimination. However, courts in other states have found that the ministerial exception covers such claims. The appeals court held that “the ministerial exception operates to bar any tort claim provided (1) the injured party is a minister formerly employed by the religious institution and (2) the claims are related to the institution’s employment decision.” Hyman was found to be a minister and his claims stemmed from the yeshiva’s decision to terminate him, so those claims were barred.

This broadening of the ministerial exception would seem to shield religious organizations from liability to employees claiming damages based on virtually any cause of action, since disputes between employers and employees usually involve adverse employment actions. However, there is sometimes disagreement on whether an employee qualifies as a minister with respect to the job in question. For example, although Hyman is a rabbi, he was hired as a “rebbe,” an elementary school teacher. The state Supreme Court could end up reviewing the case if Hyman appeals.

Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in Hackensack is experienced in representing employees in all types of workplace disputes in New Jersey. If you believe you are facing discrimination or other mistreatment at work, reach out to us at 551-245-8894 or contact us online to discuss your legal rights.

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Neil H. Deutsch

Neil H. Deutsch has been practicing law for over 35 years and is known as a skilled negotiator in employment and discrimination law. He believes in a bottom-line approach of risk analysis and cost effectiveness for his clients. "Case evaluation is something we take seriously," says Mr. Deutsch who seeks top net dollar for his…

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Bruce L. Atkins
Senior Partner

Bruce L. Atkins is the Senior Managing Partner at Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt P.C., a prominent plaintiff employment law firm in the tri-state area. Mr. Atkins believes employees’ rights should be aggressively pursued when they’ve been wrongfully dealt with by their employers. He brings this philosophy to his practice when considering each case and its…

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Adam J. Kleinfeldt

Adam J. Kleinfeldt joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in March of 2015.  He primarily represents individuals in employment litigation such as discrimination, retaliation and whistle blowing matters. He has extensive experience in all phases of the litigation process. Adam has obtained significant results for his clients, including a $525,000 jury verdict in a sexual…

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Debra M. McGarvey

Debra M. McGarvey joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in December 2019. She has extensive experience defending employees and employers in state and federal court in employment litigation matters. She has represented clients on various issues arising out of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), the…

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Carly Skarbnik Meredith

Carly Skarbnik Meredith, Esq. is a Partner at the firm. Carly has focused her career exclusively in the field of employment law. She has a plethora of experience representing both employees and employers with their employment issues, needs, and concerns. She believes representing both employees and employers has made her an extremely well-rounded client advocate.…


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