Court of Appeal: Church-owned School Exempt from Marital Status Discrimination Claims

Sara Henry divorced and began living with a boyfriend, with whom she had a child.  She worked for the Red Hill Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tustin as a teacher and administrator for a church-owned and operated preschool.  After the church discovered Henry's living situation, it discharged her. She sued for marital status discrimination.
Henry argued the church fired her because of her "marital status" in that she was unmarried and living with her boyfriend. The church contended it was concerned with her living with her boyfriend while unmarried.  Regardless, the church won the case because it is not considered an "employer" under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  As the court of appeal found, the definition of "employer" in FEHA ‟does not include a religious association or corporation not organized for private profit." Govt Code § 12926, subd (d).  The court also found that Henry was not covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Therefore, without a statutory basis, her claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy failed as well.
The case is Henry v. Red Hill Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tustin and the opinion is here.