Saturday, October 20, 2012

Haitian employees at Logan Airport allege discrimination

Two Haitian nationals who worked for a cleaning company at Logan Airport allege that they were terminated from their jobs for speaking Creole, according to the Boston Globe.  They have filed complaints of discrimination with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, claiming that they were singled out as opposed to other employees who spoke different foreign languages. One of the employees, Charles Pierre, told the Globe that he hears many employees speaking Spanish, and cannot understand why he and other Haitian employees cannot use their language.

While the state's anti-discrimination law does not explicitly protect the right of employees to speak the language of their choice at work, it does prohibit discrimination based on national origin or race. Punishing employees for speaking a foreign language, unless speaking English is necessary for the job, may be evidence of discrimination based on national origin or race.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Supreme Judicial Court Applies Ministerial Exception Broadly in Temple Emanuel Decision

Teachers at supplemental religious schools in Massachusetts cannot bring workplace discrimination claims against their employers. The United States Supreme Court in it's Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC ruling recognized, for the first time, the "ministerial exception" grounded in the First Amendment, stripping the rights conferred by workplace discrimination laws from those the Court determines to be a minister.  Last month the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that part time teachers at a religious after school program qualified as ministers, in Temple Emanuel of Newton v. MCAD.  

Teacher Gaye Hilsenrath brought a discrimination complaint against Temple Emanuel's Rabbi Albert I. Gordon Religious School. Ms. Hilsenrath was not a rabbi.  Her claim of discrimination had nothing to do with religious beliefs.  She alleged age discrimination, that she was not rehired to her teaching position because she was too old. The Synagogue did not assert a sincerely held belief that teachers should retire at a certain age.  Instead, they argued that who they hire to teach at their religious school is none of the States business.  The court agreed.

Answering their own question in the affirmative, the Supreme Judicial Court stated "the fundamental question [in deciding if the ministerial exception applies] is whether it would infringe the free exercise of religion or cause excessive entanglement between the State and a religious group if a court were to order a religious group to hire or retain a religious teacher that the religious group did not want to employ, or to order damages for refusing to do so." The opinion gave no indication how far this "ministerial exception"would reach in the future.  But this decision is unlikely to be the last word on the topic.