Are clergy, as employees, covered by EEOC laws? (Ref. priest sex scandal, obviously, but in general)

See query. Can the corporate body of the local church be sued for allowing sexual harassment, and the normal legal avenues be followed?

I guess the same could be asked about OSHA (lepers invited by church to come to confession, priest gets leprosy, sues his church).

What does EEOC have to do with sex abuse?

Clergy as employees are not allowed to bring federal discrimination claims against their churches for pretty obvious reasons. Churches are also given some latitude in their hiring practices for other more essential employees (anyone in a ministerial role - also for obvious reasons.) They are also protected from any hiring decisions based on religious belief (For instance, a mosque is allowed to turn away Christian applicants for its custodial positions or require them to sign a faith waiver - this one is less obvious as to why since we’re largely in a Christian culture and don’t get it like other cultures, but it serves to protect places that are sacred sites. For instance, non-Mormons ain’t allowed in their temples and forcing them to hire a non-Mormon janitor to clean their temple is a buggery thing to do.) They are not though protected from gender or race discrimination for non-ministerial hires. So if a black Mormon wants to clean the temple, then the church can’t say No (although it gets tricky because if you are a true-believer, but think that say women shouldn’t be cleaning men’s areas, then would you even apply for the job if you were a woman? Is it de facto discrimination? I don’t know, glad I’m not a judge.)

As for sexual harassment claims-- Yes, a church certainly can be sued for sexual harassment and it does happen from time to time. Clergy are not immune from sexual harassment lawsuits. I would wager that due to the confidential nature of their jobs they get some latitude similar to a counselor or psychiatrist. So while 'Tell me what your sex life is like." is probably grounds for dismissal if you’re a manager at McDonald’s, it may not be if you’re a pastor counseling a married couple.

The real issue though if you want to sue your priest is simply statute of limitations. Sexual harassment claims typically have a statute of limitations of about a year depending upon jurisdiction. Sexual assault limitations are much longer in general and are a more ripe avenue for litigation. The reality is that there are fewer and fewer of these cases every year and most of the problems were from decades ago. The Pennsylvania report for instance basically dries up (though not completely) after 2002 when changes were made by the diocese and we’re well after statute of limitations for those cases.

EEOC prevents discrimination via harassment based on your gender. This includes what we term today ‘sexual harassment.’ If an altar boy is being groomed for sex, it is extremely likely that he is the victim of sexual harassment and could thus as a volunteer employee of the church file a sexual harassment lawsuit. I think that’s where the OP is going.

I didn’t think that volunteers were protected under federal employment discrimination laws.

Yes senoy is correct about where I am going/what I mean. Before posting I did a quick jump to the EEOC page to see if I was in the right ballpark. No doubt there are other legal codes at play.

Also, I am referring to salaried employees.

That might be where he’s going, but it’s not at all clear that altar boys (as volunteers) are covered by EEO laws. I know that one court decision said that volunteer firefighters were covered, but says

Which doesn't at all mean that clergy/religious organizations are exempt from sexual harassment laws- just because the EEO laws don't typically cover volunteers doesn't mean they don't cover the church secretary and just because religious organizations are generally exempt from employment discrimination laws for ministerial positions doesn't necessarily mean they are exempt from sexual harassment laws for ministerial positions. I think sexual harassment is seen as a separate issue now, rather than a form of sex discrimination.
  • Sure, in 1986 there was a court decision that said sexual harassment was a form of gender discrimination - but I’m not sure that in 1986 anyone was thinking about any form of sexual harassment other than “male harassing female”. Nowadays, you’ll see EEOC guidance and court decisions that say “gender doesn’t matter, it’s possible for a male to be guilty of harassing another male.” But it’s not sex discrimination in the case of an equal opportunity harasser, who harasses both males and females and I can’t imagine that that is perfectly legal.

interesting choice of word given the thread subject :slight_smile: Also ungrammatical but we don’t nitpick grammar here.

Emphasis added.

I haven’t really kept up with this area and I don’t know the current state of the law but there are several cases where an “equal opportunity harasser” is found not to be liable for a Title VII sex discrimination claim because the person harassed members of both sexes equally. There are also cases where the court seems to bend over backwards to find that people who harass both sexes are are still liable under the same provision. See pages 543-545, and especially the footnotes, in this law review article.

I don’t know if this has been clarified or resolved by the Supreme Court along the way or if courts are otherwise coming to consensus on the liability of equal opportunity harassers.

Now I remember that in my parish, the Knights of Columbus offered college scholarships that were only given to altar boys. And fairly sizable ones, too. So because of this remuneration (given by a 3rd party, though rather church connected), does that make volunteer altar boys ‘employees’ in a legal EEO sense?