New Ruling For Religious Employers Limits "Ministerial Exception" to Wage and Hour Claims

The California Court of Appeal recently waded into the First Amendment guaranty of separation of church and state in Su v. Stephen S. Wise Temple, decided March 8, 2019. The case arose when the California Labor Commissioner sued the Reform Jewish synagogue, Stephen S. Wise Temple, which operates a preschool, for failing to provide 10 minute rest breaks, 30 minute meal breaks, and overtime pay to its teachers, as required under California’s Labor Code. The Temple argued its teachers were exempt from the state’s law requirements under the “ministerial exception,” first developed by the courts in 1972 and universally recognized, including by the U.S. Supreme Court.The ministerial exception permits a church, synagogue, or other religious institution to engage in conduct that may otherwise be held to be impermissible under state and federal law. The underlying principle behind the exception is that if the state via wage and hour or anti-discrimination laws,…

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