Gunn v. Mariners Church, Inc. – Recent decision on the “Ministerial Exception”

In Gunn v. Mariners Church, Inc., __ Cal.App.4th __ (Sept. 2, 2008), the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the trial court, which had granted defendant’s summary judgment motion. Plaintiff and Appellant Gunn, sued for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Gunn alleged that after the defendant terminated Gunn because he was homosexual, the defendant made several comments about Gunn in front of the church and others, which were allegedly defamatory. What is interesting about this case is the court’s detailed discussion of the “ministerial exception,” which “bars courts from reviewing employment decisions by religious organizations affecting employees who have religious duties of ministers” (citations omitted). The key to the court’s decision was that it was the defendant’s practice to inform the congregation that it had terminated a church employee and its reasons for doing so. Since that was the case here, the “ministerial exception” barred Gunn’s claims.

Also of note here is the point that the “ministerial exception” may apply to “post-termination acts if they were part of the process of termination.”

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