In a landmark ruling issued on March 5, 2021, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that an associate professor of social work at Gordon College, a private liberal arts Christian school located in Wenham, Massachusetts, is not a “minister” and may therefore pursue her claims for discrimination and retaliation under state law.
In that case, DeWeese-Boyd v. Gordon College, the plaintiff claims that her employer, Gordon College, denied her tenure based on her vocal opposition to the school’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies. The College argued that the case should be dismissed under the so-called “ministerial exception.” Under that exception, “ministerial employees” of “religious institutions” are exempt from protection under state and federal anti-discrimination and retaliation laws.
The trial court in DeWeese-Boyd denied the College’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims, finding that she was not a “minister” within the meaning of the exception. On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding that the plaintiff’s role at Gordon College was:
[S]ignificantly different from the ordained ministers or teachers of religion at primary or secondary schools in the cases that have come before the Supreme Court. DeWeese-Boyd was not ordained or commissioned; she was not held out as a minister and did not view herself as a minister; and she was not required to undergo formal religious training, pray with her students, participate in or lead religious services, take her students to chapel services, or teach a religious curriculum.