Henry v. Red Hill Evangelical Lutheran Church, 201 Cal. App. 4th 1041 (2011)

Sara Henry taught preschool children at the Red Hill Evangelical Church of Tustin; she was also the director of the preschool. Henry, who is Catholic, was not required to be Lutheran (only a practicing Christian) and was aware of the “Christian-based, Bible-based values of the school.” Henry was married when she was hired but later divorced and gave birth to a child fathered by her boyfriend. The church terminated Henry’s employment because her “living arrangements were contrary to the religious beliefs of the church and school.” Henry sued the church for marital status discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and for violation of the public policy embodied in that statute, Title VII and the state constitution. The trial court bifurcated the trial and, after hearing the church’s defenses first, entered judgment in favor of the church because Henry was terminated for violating a church precept. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the church is exempt from the FEHA and that the termination did not violate any public policy rooted in Title VII. The Court also held the ministerial exception doctrine barred Henry’s claims.