The ministerial exception to civil rights and employment discrimination cases is a non-statutory exception, compelled by the First Amendment.  To fall within the exception, the defendant must show (1) it is a religious group, (2) the plaintiff is a minister, and (3) the claim turns on an ecclesiastical inquiry or would excessively entangle the court in religious matters.  Here, Simpson University established that it was a religious institution.  Private, religious schools are religious organizations for purposes of the ministerial exception.  Plaintiff was a “minister” because she was dean of the Tozer Seminary at Simpson University, a school devoted solely to training clergy.  Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim was not barred by the ministerial exception because plaintiff was allegedly fired for insubordination, an offense defined in the faculty handbook and was terminated without following procedures the handbook required, so a court would not have to inquire about religious matters to adjudicate the claim.  However, the ministerial exception barred plaintiff’s claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress because they arose from acts and statements that were part and parcel of the termination decision and process.  Even though the reason for termination wasn’t religious, the First Amendment protects the decision, not its motivation.

California Court of Appeal, Third District (Blease, Acting P.J.); September 25, 2018; 27 Cal. App. 5th 577