Ministers not protected under labor act

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a District Court's decision to toss out a case because the plaintiffs were not entitled to minimum wage and overtime under the "ministerial exception," although the Circuit Court modified the reason for dismissing the case.

In Steve and Lorrie Schleicher v. The Salvation Army, No. 07-1333, the Schleichers appealed the decision of U.S. District Judge Richard Young of the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, to dismiss the case for lack of federal jurisdiction. The Schleichers, ordained ministers of The Salvation Army, brought a suit against The Salvation Army, charging violations of the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Schleichers were administrators of The Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center in Indianapolis. The job did not pay wages, but they received a stipend of $150 a week. The Rehabilitation Center operated a total of five thrift shops, and most of the thrift shop employees were people down on their luck that The Salvation Army was attempting to redeem.

The couple was later expelled from The Salvation Army for filing the suit.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Judge Young's decision to dismiss the case, although the case should have been dismissed because of lack of merits in the plaintiff's claims, wrote Judge Richard Posner.

The Schleichers were not employed by the thrift shops they worked at, nor is the Rehabilitation Center an ordinary business enterprise that would be subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Rehabilitation Center is a church, administered by church officials.

The question the Circuit Court had to decide was whether the fact that a church has a commercial dimension brings its ministers under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

It does not, using the Schleichers case as an example, wrote Judge Posner, because the ministers who run the Rehabilitation Center don't wait on customers or manage the day-to-day operations, but instead they manage the religious complex that includes the thrift shops.

Comparing the Schleichers' thrift shops to a Catholic cathedral that runs a gift shop, Judge Posner wrote that the employees of the thrift shop would be subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act, but the bishop who administers the cathedral is not.

"The Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Centers are functional equivalents of cathedrals or monasteries, and the ministers who administer them are therefore engaged in ecclesiastical administration," he wrote.

The best way to decide the case is to presume clerical personnel are not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which can be rebutted by proof a church is fake or the title of "minister" is not appropriately bestowed upon an employee.

The Schleichers are properly ordained ministers in a completely legitimate church, so they are not subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Judge Posner wrote that although Judge Young was correct in dismissing the case, the judge dismissed the case for the wrong reason, creating a harmless error. Judge Young dismissed the case under a rule that allowed the court to toss cases that are not within the jurisdiction of the District Court. The case should have been dismissed because of its merits - that the court would not rule in an ecclesiastical controversy, Judge Posner wrote.

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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues