No ?Majority ?Opinion ?on ?Application ?of?Ministerial Exception Under Washington Law.
Plaintiff Erdman was an Elder of the Chapel Hill Church and ordained. ?She was employed as an executive for stewardship.?? She reported to the church?s senior pastor, Dr. Mark Toone.? ?Dr. Toone led tours of historical and religious significance during his vacation time.?? Plaintiff questioned whether the tours would adversely affect the church?s tax exempt status.? After some investigation, Dr. Toone concluded that the tax exempt status was unaffected, and that Plaintiff?s continued challenges constituted insubordination. Plaintiff persisted.
The Session, the governing body of the local church, was tasked with resolving the tax issue and the interpersonal issue between Dr. Toone and Plaintiff.? ?During the investigation by the Session, Plaintiff took medical leave due to stress. Her attorney contacted a Session member and threatened adverse publicity unless the church agreed to a generous severance. ?Plaintiff was then placed? ?on? ?administrative?? leave?? without? ?pay pending a final resolution by the Session.
While the Session was still investigating, Plaintiff Presbytery,? ?but? ?reversed? ?on? ?the? ?claims? ?of negligent supervision, retention and Title VII. Erdman v. Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, 156 Wn. App. 827, 234 P.3d 299 (2010).? ?The Supreme Court granted review. ?After the Court accepted? review, ?the ?United? States? Supreme Court decided Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment?filed a grievance with the Presbytery of Olympia,?Opportunity? ?Commission,? ? ???? U.S.?? ??????, ?132 the Church?s governing body for the region that includes Chapel Hill.?? Plaintiff alleged numerous violations of the Book of Order.?? Thereafter the Session Committee concluded its report, and recommended that Plaintiff be terminated from employment ?on ?the ?grounds ?that ?she ?failed? to follow scriptural teaching and violated her ordination vows.?? The Presbytery concluded that Plaintiff?s grievance was without merit.
Plaintiff filed suit alleging (1) negligent retention, (2) negligent supervision, (3) violations of the WLAD, (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (5) negligent infliction of emotional distress, (6) wrongful discharge, (7) wrongful termination in violation of public policy, (8) retaliation, and (9) wrongful withholding of wages. Her amended complaint also raised federal law claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on (1) religious and sexual discrimination, (2) harassment, (3) hostile work environment, ?and ?(4) ?retaliation. ?42 ?U.S.C. ?? 2000e-2(a)(1).
The trial court ruled that it had insufficient information to determine whether Plaintiff was a ?minister? for the application of the ?ministerial exception?? to ?the? First ?Amendment.???? ?It nevertheless dismissed Erdman’s negligent retention, negligent supervision, wrongful discharge, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, retaliation, negligent infliction of emotional? distress,? and? federal? law ?claims? that were based on facts set forth in the grievance to the Presbytery.
The Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of several claims ?based ?upon ?the ?grievance ?filed ?with ?the S.Ct. 694, 181 L.Ed.2d 650 (2012).
Writing for a plurality of four, Justice Madsen remanded? ?on? ?the? ?factual? ?issue?? of? ?whether Plaintiff was a minister within the meaning of the First Amendment.? ?That determination to be decided in light of Hosanna-Tabor. On the issues of negligent retention and supervision, the plurality stated that ?negligent retention and supervision claims implicate a religious organization’s First Amendment right to select its clergy.? ?The plurality opined that these secular claims? violated? both? the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. ?Relying upon Hosanna-Tabor, the plurality rejected the ?neutral principles of law? theory ?which provides that courts are not bound to accept the decisions of ecclesiastical tribunals as to matters that fall outside the parameters of discipline, faith, internal organization, or ecclesiastical ?rule? custom, ?or? law.??? ??A? civil court is not entitled to interfere with or intervene in a church’s selection and supervision of its ministers, . . .?? when civil claims of negligent retention and supervision are asserted.? Justice Alexander, joined by Justice Fairhurst concurred.? ?Because no opinion was able to muster a majority of the Justices, this narrow decision becomes the holding of the case. ?Justice Alexander? ruled ?that ?the? outcome? was determined by the Plaintiff?s failure to appeal the decision of the Presbytery of Olympia, which decision is binding.? ??That conclusion, in my judgment, resolves the case, and we should not, as the lead opinion and concurrence/dissent do, speculate ?about ?what ?this ?court ?should ?do ?in factually dissimilar cases that may come before the court in the future.?
Justice Chambers, joined by Stephens and Applewick (Pro Tem), concurred in part and dissented in part. ?Justice Chambers concluded that the ministerial exception to the First Amendment played no role in this case.?? ??[T]he First Amendment does not vest churches with immunity from criminal or tort liability. While churches have a right to be free from state interference in matters of religious doctrine or faith, no exercise of religious faith condones the sexual exploitation of children.? ??[I]t is a far cry from saying that courts have no business interfering with a church’s choice of ministers to holding that a church is effectively immune from the consequences of its choices.? Justice Chambers distinguished Hosanna-Tabor because that case, unlike this one, ?considered whether the ministerial exception doctrine applied to bar a petitioner’s claims because she herself was a minister; not because, as here, someone else was. It did not purport to consider whether a tortfeasor’s ministerial status was relevant to whether a civil claim? ?may?? be? ?pursued? ?against? ?a? ?church? ?for negligent retention and supervision.? (Emphasis original).?? ?Justice Chambers would have adopted the ?neutral principles of law? theory.
Erdman v. Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church, 175 Wn.2d 659, 286 P.2d 357 (10/4/2012).