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Court of Appeals rejects Catholic school teacher's Civil Rights and Whistleblower Protection claim

Madeline Weishuhn sued the Catholic Diocese of Lansing, arguing that the church had violated the Michigan Civil Rights Act and the Whistleblower's Protection Act by not renewing her teaching contract.  The previous year, she had taught four classes in mathematics and two religion classes at St. Mary's School in Mt. Morris.  Her employment was terminated following a series of events that did not involve religious instruction or controversy. 

The trial court dismissed Weishuhn's lawsuit, holding that under the "ministerial exception," to Michigan's civil rights laws, Weishuhn's public policy statutory rights and her civil right to be free from discrimination in employment could not be recognized by the Courts:  the judge concluded that Constitutional separation of church and state bars the courts of the state from interfering with the employment relationship between a church and "ministerial employees" having spiritual or religious duties. 

This month the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision, finding that Weishuhn's duties were primarily religious in nature, even though a majority of her teaching duties were in mathematics.  The Court concluded that in the context of religious schooling, even mathematics is not a secular pursuit, and Weishuhn had additional religous duties outside the classroom.  The four factors that determine whether an employee is "ministerial" and outside the protections of civil rights law were considered to be:

(1) whether her primary duties consisted of "spreading the faith" or participating in church ritual or governance;   (2) whether her duties had religious significance; (3) whether her position inherently or exclusively involved proselytizing or was otherwise important to the church's spiritual or pastoral mission; and, (4) whether her functions were essentially liturgical.

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