Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ex rel. Sokolowski v. Trinity Christian School
Allegations that a Christian school worker was discharged because of marital status and pregnancy may state a prima face case of employment discrimination. Andrea Sokolowski filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, alleging that she worked at Trinity Christian School and was discharged because of her marital status, sex and pregnancy, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. Trinity Christian School moved to dismiss and argued that federal and state civil-rights laws do not apply to "ministerial" workers of religious institutions. Sokolowski moved to dismiss and argued that she worked as a pre-school teacher's assistant and child care provider, as opposed to as a "minister." "Religion Clauses bar the government from interfering with the decision of a religious group to fire one of its ministers," pursuant to Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a 2012 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The so-called "ministerial exception" arises from the reasoning that if secular standards are applied to a church's employment of ministers, that will burden the free exercise of religion, in violation of the First Amendment, pursuant to Rweyemamu v. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, a 2006 decision of the Connecticut Appellate Court. The "ministerial" exception operates as an affirmative defense, as opposed to as a jurisdictional bar. Discretion exists to consider discrimination claims and to decide whether they may proceed, or whether they are barred by the "ministerial" exception. Sokolowski stated a prima facie case of employment discrimination, and Presiding Human Rights Referee Ellen Bromley denied Trinity Christian School's motion to dismiss.