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NJ Supreme Court Allows a Religious Organization Exemption to the Law Against Discrimination

Across the country, there have been legal clashes between workers and the religious institutions that employ them, with each side seeking to exercise what they believe to be their fundamental rights. Courts often have to step in when churches, religious schools and other faith-based organizations institute conflict with anti-discrimination laws that purportedly protect all employees.

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled on this type of dispute in Crisitello v. St. Theresa’s School, where Victoria Crisitello, an unmarried art teacher at a Catholic elementary school was fired after she notified her employer that she was pregnant. When she was hired, Ms. Crisitello signed a document agreeing to abide by Catholic principles or risk termination.

Under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD), employers are generally prohibited from discharging a worker on the basis that they are expecting a child. However, the LAD allows an exemption for a religious organization in situations where it is “following the tenets of its religion in establishing and utilizing criteria for employment.” St. Theresa’s cited this exception and the First Amendment to assert that they were permitted to fire Ms. Crisitello as a result of her pregnancy. The trial court sided with the school, dismissing the case with prejudice.

After reviewing Ms. Crisitello’s appeal, the state’s Supreme Court affirmed the decision, declaring that the “religious tenets” exception in the LAD is an affirmative defense available to a religious entity when confronted with a claim of employment discrimination. This case could have wide-ranging effects for New Jersey workers employed by religious organizations who might be required to abide by the doctrine espoused by their employer, even if they themselves practice a different faith, or no faith at all.

Courts could also be put into difficult situations as judges will have to determine if an adverse employment action that violates the LAD on its face is sincerely grounded in the employer’s religious beliefs. There might also be circumstances where a business represents itself as a religious organization in order to engage in otherwise unlawful discrimination.

If you’ve faced discrimination at your workplace, the accomplished employment attorneys at Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. can advise you of your rights to legal relief, even if your employer is trying to apply the religious exemption. Please call 551-245-8894 or contact us online for a consultation. Our office is in Hackensack.

Neil  H.  Deutsch Attorney Photo
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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