ILNews

Fired rabbi loses appeal

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

A Bloomington rabbi terminated less than a year into his contract with Congregation Beth Shalom lost his case before the Indiana Court of Appeals. He claimed he was fired for reporting child abuse, but the congregation said his contract was terminated for other conduct that fell under the ministerial exception.

Beth Shalom entered into a contract with Steven Ballaban for him to serve as rabbi for three years. He was fired nearly a year later in 2010 due to the board of directors’ view that Ballaban was unable or unwilling to fulfill the expectations for rabbinic behavior, put the tax-exempt status of the congregation at risk, breached the congregation’s guidelines’ sacred duty of confidence on at least two occasions, and was hostile toward employees. Ballaban argued that he was fired because he previously had exchanged email messages with several people regarding concerns of child abuse by a teacher. That abuse claim was later unsubstantiated by the Department of Child Services.

After Ballaban filed a lawsuit following his termination, the congregation argued that the ministerial exception applies. Ballaban claimed reporting child abuse would fall outside of that exception and allow his suit to proceed. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Beth Shalom and other defendants.

Judges Elaine Brown, L. Mark Bailey and Nancy Vaidik each wrote opinions on this case, with Bailey and Vaidik concurring with Brown’s opinion that summary judgment was proper for the defendants.

Brown wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t decided whether the ministerial exception applies when a minister is fired or impacted for reporting or attempting to report child abuse. She found it’s not necessary to decide that yet because the record supports the ruling that the ministerial exception applies.

Bailey noted that the record doesn’t include Ballaban’s complaint or amended complaint, but it appears he brought claims of breach of contract, tortious interference with a contract, negligent failure to supervise, defamation and invasion of privacy. He pointed to a letter to Ballaban designated as evidence by Beth Shalom that reasons for his termination included “conduct unbecoming a spiritual leader,” and that he had been counseled by another rabbi about his behavior. Ballaban never designated materials showing that the termination was prompted solely by the reports of child abuse.

Vaidik wrote that the ministerial exception doesn’t allow a congregation to fire a spiritual leader who refuses to commit a criminal offense and failure to report child abuse is a criminal offense. But the designated evidence doesn’t reveal the reason Ballaban was fired was his child-abuse reporting, so she concurred in result.

All of the judges agreed in Steven A. Ballaban v. Bloomington Jewish Community, Inc., a/k/a Congregation Beth Shalom, Paul Eisenberg, Judith Rose, Sarah Wasserman, Lynne Foster Shifriss, and Roberta "Didi" Kerler, 53A01-1207-CT-315, that Beth Shalom is not entitled to appellate attorney fees.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

ADVERTISEMENT