By Karen Freifeld
NEW YORK, Jan 30 (Reuters) - A judge has dismissed a lawsuit
brought by an ordained minister fired by a church agency, saying
it was unconstitutional for the court to become involved in the
employment relationship between a religious institution and one
of its ministers.
Rev. Douglas Mills's case was barred by the First
Amendment's "ministerial exception," even if the minister also
performed secular duties, Justice Charles Ramos of New York
State Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled Tuesday.
Under the ministerial exception, religious institutions have
been shielded in some situations from anti-discrimination laws.
Ramos applied the exception to Mills's breach of contract
claim against the Standing General Commission on Christian Unity
and Interreligious Concerns, a New York-based agency of the
United Methodist Church.
Mills was hired in 2005 as associate general secretary for
the commission. His job was to promote theological dialogue and
Stephen Sidorak, who became general secretary in 2008,
dismissed Mills in 2009, citing insubordination and
untrustworthiness, according to the judge's decision.
Mills sued the agency and Sidorak for breach of contract. He
said he was terminated without just cause six months after being
re-elected to a four-year term.
The agency moved for summary judgment and invoked the
Mills said it didn't apply because he wasn't employed as a
minister and his employment activities were secular, which the
agency disputed, according to the decision.
Ramos agreed and threw out the case.
"Even if Mills performed primarily secular duties, the
ministerial exception will apply if his job duties 'reflected a
role in conveying the church's message and carrying out its
mission,'" the judge said, citing the Supreme Court's 2012
ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v.
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In Hosanna-Tabor, an employment discrimination case in
which a teacher at a Lutheran church and school who was ill was
fired, the EEOC sought to bring a claim against the school for
violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Allen Roberts, a lawyer for the United Methodist Church
agency and Sidorak, said he believed it was the first time
Hosanna-Tabor, an employment discrimination case, had been
applied to breach of contract claims in New York.
"Justice Ramos understood and appreciated the special nature
of the religious organization's employment of Rev. Mills,"
Roberts said in an interview.
Yomi Owoyinfa, a lawyer for Mills, did not immediately
return a call for comment.
The case is W. Douglas Mills v. Standing General Commission
on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, New York State
Supreme Court, New York County, No. 601640/2009.
For Mills: Obayomi Awoyinfa of the Law Offices of Yomi
Awoyina for Mills.
For the defendants: Allen B. Roberts of Epstein Becker
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