February 15, 2016
by John Kaempf

Based On The First Amendment Right To Freely Exercise Religion, An Oregon Trial Court Judge Dismissed A Wrongful Discharge Lawsuit By A Teacher Against The Religious School That Fired Her For Violating Its Moral Code.

John Kaempf, the author of this newsletter, successfully defended a lawsuit against a Catholic school and its private investigator brought by a religion teacher at the school. The unmarried teacher was fired for admittedly having premarital sex in violation of Catholic doctrine. The defendant school hired the co-defendant investigator to evaluate the plaintiff’s claim that she was raped by a co-worker.

October 15, 2015
by John Kaempf

Same-Sex Marriage Is Now Legal Nationwide, Which Will Lead To Legal Battles Between Supporters Of This New Constitutional Right on the One Hand Versus Religious Institutions and Individuals That Support Traditional Marriage On the Other Hand

1. A summary of the opinion legalizing gay marriage in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision this year and its relevance to Oregon churches and religious schools In a 5 to 4 split decision issued on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 Supreme Court 2584 (2015), in an opinion written by “swing” Justice Kennedy (who was joined by the Court’s four liberal justices – Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and…

February 15, 2016
by John Kaempf

While Same Sex Marriage Is Now Legal, Oregon Law Allows Religious Institutions Like Schools And Churches To Refuse To Hire and To Fire Persons Based On A “Bona Fide Religious Belief” About Their Sexual Orientation or Marital Status.

Same sex marriage is now legal nationwide pursuant to a 2015 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Obergefell case. However, Oregon religious entities should keep in mind that, pursuant to an Oregon statute, they are not required to hire or continue to employ someone in a same sex marriage. They cannot be held liable for employment discrimination based on such actions if they have a “bona fide religious belief” against same sex marriage….

October 14, 2015
by John Kaempf

The “Sweetcakes By Melissa” Dispute – Oregon’s Bureau Of Labor and Industries (BOLI) Made National News This Year By Ordering Christian Bakers to Pay a Lesbian Couple $135,000 for Refusing to Make a Cake For Their Wedding Based on the Bakers’ Religious Beliefs

1. A summary of the Sweetcakes ruling by BOLI and its rejection of the Christian bakers’ First Amendment free exercise of religion defense On July 2, 2015 – the week after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 Supreme Court 2584 (2015), which legalized gay marriage nationwide (as separately discussed in this newsletter) – Brad Avakian, Oregon’s BOLI Commissioner, issued his Final Order in a BOLI case entitled In the Matter of…

October 13, 2015
by John Kaempf

DEFAMATION LIABILITY AND TERMINATED EMPLOYEES

Churches and religious schools are periodically faced with the dilemma of having to terminate a priest, pastor, teacher, or other employee and then answer questions from the congregation and other employees about why the person was let go. Churches and religious schools can feel torn between wanting to explain what happened and fearing civil liability for defamation (a false, unprivileged statement that causes injury to another) to a person who is upset that they were…

October 1, 2014
by John Kaempf

CHILD ABUSE CLAIMS ARE THE #1 REASON OREGON CHURCHES GET SUED

A study published in the November 2013 edition of Christianity Today states that the number one reason churches get sued is claims involving the alleged sexual abuse of a minor.  (This is followed by insurance coverage disputes, religious freedom disputes, property disputes, and personal injury disputes, in that order.) This is particularly true in Oregon, which has some of the most pro-plaintiff laws in the country concerning a religious organization’s direct and vicarious liability for…

July 15, 2014
by John Kaempf

DEFENSES AGAINST CLAIMS BY FIRED TEACHERS

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…

July 15, 2014
by John Kaempf

LIMITED VICARIOUS LIABILITY FOR “NON-EMPLOYEE AGENTS”

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…

July 15, 2014
by John Kaempf

MINISTERIAL EXCEPTION TO DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS BY TEACHERS

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…

October 1, 2014
by John Kaempf

RELIGIOUS DEFENSES TO CLAIMS CONCERNING SEXUAL ORIENTATION DISCRIMINATION – WHY THE “SWEET CAKES BY MELISSA” DISPUTE IS DIFFERENT

Oregon received national media attention earlier this year when its Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) announced in a January 2014 press release that a Gresham bakery violated the civil rights of a same-sex couple when it denied them service based on their sexual orientation.  The couple filed a complaint against “Sweet Cakes by Melissa” under the Oregon Equality Act of 2007, a law that protects the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender Oregonians…

July 15, 2014
by John Kaempf

THE AUTHORITY TO EXPEL & DISCIPLINE STUDENTS

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…

March 29, 2015
by John Kaempf

The U.S. Supreme Court recently held that a town can open its board meetings with a Christian prayer without violating the First Amendment

In Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, 134 Supreme Court 1811 (2014), the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether the town of Greece, New York, imposes an impermissible establishment of religion by opening its monthly board meetings with a Christian prayer.  The Court held that no violation of the U.S. Constitution was shown. In Greece, a town of 94,000 in upstate New York, monthly town board meetings begin with an invocation by a local clergyman…

October 1, 2014
by John Kaempf

WHEN CAN AN OREGON CHURCH OR RELIGIOUS SCHOOL BE HELD LIABLE FOR DEFAMATION CONCERNING THE FIRING OF AN EMPLOYEE?

Oregon churches and religious schools are sometimes faced with the dilemma of having to terminate a priest, pastor, teacher, or other employee and then answer questions from the congregation or other employees about why the person was let go.  Churches and religious schools can feel torn between wanting to explain what happened and fearing civil liability for defamation to a person who is upset that they were fired.   The Oregon Court of Appeals stated…

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