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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit applied the First Amendment’s “ministerial exception” to the claim of a Catholic seminarian, affirming the district court’s Rule 12(c) dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim for overtime pay under the Washington Minimum Wage Act (WMWA). In Rosas v. Corp. of the Catholic Archbishop of Seattle, the Ninth Circuit adopted a new test for determining whether a person is a “minister” for purposes of the ministerial exception.
Plaintiff Rosas was a Catholic seminarian in Mexico. The Catholic church required Rosas to participate in a ministry training program at St. Mary Catholic Church in Marysville, Washington, as the next step in becoming an ordained priest. The defendant, the Corporation of the Catholic Archbishop of Seattle, hosted Rosas in the ministry training program. Rosas claimed that as part of the ministry training program he was required to perform “maintenance of the church” and that he “worked many overtime hours he was not compensated for.”
The district court dismissed the plaintiff’s overtime claims on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Ninth Circuit began its analysis by confirming that the “interplay between the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment clauses creates an exception to an otherwise fully applicable statute if the statute would interfere with a religious organization’s employment decisions regarding its ministers.” The Ninth Circuit then analyzed the potential impact of the WMWA on the interests protected by the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, and ruled that the First Amendment’s ministerial exception applies to claims asserted under the WMWA. The Ninth Circuit concluded that (1) subjecting a church to state overtime claims could have an adverse impact on religious liberty, and (2) applying the WMWA to the clergy-church employment relationship would create an unconstitutional entanglement between church and state.
Turning to the plaintiff’s individual claims, the Ninth Circuit held that plaintiff’s state overtime claims were barred as a matter of law under the First Amendment’s ministerial exception because the plaintiff was a “minister” and because subjecting the defendant to WMWA claims would interfere with protected employment decisions. In analyzing the plaintiff’s status, the Ninth Circuit adopted a new three-part test for determining whether a person is a “minister” for purposes of the ministerial exception, which considers the following factors: (1) whether the person is employed by a religious institution, (2) whether the person was chosen for the position based largely on religious criteria, and (3) whether the person performs some religious duties and responsibilities. Applying this test to the allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint, the Ninth Circuit found that the plaintiff was a “minister.”
With respect to interference with protected employment decisions, the Ninth Circuit held that allowing the plaintiff to pursue state overtime claims would interfere with the defendant’s right to select ministers using whatever criteria it deems appropriate, and to determine the duties to be performed by plaintiff in furtherance of the religious mission of the Catholic Church. As explained by the Ninth Circuit, the Catholic Church could “require its candidate for the priesthood to spend a year mostly cleaning sinks without overtime pay.” Such decisions are protected by the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, and by the First Amendment’s ministerial exception to statutory claims like overtime claims under the WMWA.
This entry was written by Douglas E. Smith.