Update: On August 14, 2023, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a decision in Victoria Crisitello v. St. Theresa School. The Court held that the “religious tenets exception” to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination provides an affirmative defense for religious employers facing claims of employment discrimination. This means that religious employers can use the exception as a way to avoid liability under state antidiscrimination law. In this case, the school claimed Ms. Crisitello was fired because she violated their Code of Ethics, which follows Catholic teachings on premarital sex. Here, the Court ruled for St. Theresa, holding that Ms. Crisitello did not show a genuine dispute as to whether the school’s decision to fire her relied solely on religious tenets.
Because the Court decided the case based on the New Jersey antidiscrimination statute, they did not rule on the arguments regarding the ministerial exception.
The National Women’s Law Center, along with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, our law firm partner Lowenstein Sandler LLP, and 26 additional organizations filed an amicus brief in the New Jersey Supreme Court in support of Victoria Crisitello, an unmarried elementary school art teacher at a Catholic school who was fired after she told her employer she was pregnant. Ms. Crisitello’s employer is claiming that she is a “minister,” and therefore the ministerial exception allows the school to deny her workplace civil rights protections. This case represents continuing efforts by religiously affiliated employers to avoid complying with workplace civil rights. For more background on the case, please read our blog.