Religious schools periodically decide to expel a student for misconduct in the middle of a school year or to not re-enroll a student for the next school year. Parents and students sometimes respond with the threat of a lawsuit if the student is expelled. Religious schools facing this scenario should realize that they have much greater authority to expel a student than a public school, and, therefore, any such claim can be defeated.
First, the free exercise of religion provisions of the United States and Oregon Constitutions allow religious schools to make these decisions free of court interference if they are based at least in part on religious doctrine. Continue reading
In 1999, the Oregon Supreme Court issued a landmark decision that made Oregon one of the few states that allow an employer to be held vicariously liable for an employee abusing a child. Fearing v. Bucher, 328 Oregon Supreme Court 367 (1999). This ruling was followed by a flood of child abuse lawsuits that resulted in the bankruptcy of the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland in the 2000s given that it could be held liable for child abuse by priests it employed. The Fearing case, which involved alleged child abuse by a priest, remains the law in Oregon as to an “employee”
of a defendant.
Moreover, Oregon’s child abuse statute of limitations was amended in 2009 to grant an alleged child abuse victim an automatic right to file a civil lawsuit until they reach 40 years of age. (Oregon Revised Statutes 12.117) Continue reading
Religious schools and churches periodically terminate or discipline a teacher or other employee who violated tenets of the religion at issue, such as premarital cohabitation. Employers taking such actions have a complete defense to discrimination claims arising from such decisions based on the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the corresponding provisions of the Oregon Constitution.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Article 1, Section 3 of the Oregon Constitution states: “No law shall in any case whatever control the free exercise, and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.” Continue reading
Teachers and other employees of religious schools sometimes sue for discrimination, including claims under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The law, however, recognizes a ministerial exception to such claims based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states, in relevant part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The ministerial exception precludes application of employment discrimination statutes to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers. Continue reading