Sumner v. Simpson Univ., 27 Cal. App. 5th 577 (2018)

Sarah Sumner was the dean of the A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary and was employed pursuant to a written employment agreement. Her employment was terminated by Robin Dummer in his capacity as acting provost of the university on the ground that Sumner had been insubordinate. Sumner sued, alleging breach of contract, defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Seminary moved for summary judgment, asserting that Sumner’s employment was within the “ministerial exception” and, therefore, that judicial review of her employment-related dispute is precluded by the religion clauses of the First Amendment. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Seminary, but the Court of Appeal reversed in part. The appellate court agreed that the ministerial exception does apply (even though Sumner was not a minister) but that adjudicating her contract cause of action (as distinguished from her tort claims) did not require the court to resolve a religious controversy.