Citation Schmoll v. Chapman Univ., 83 Cal. Rptr. 2d 426 (Cal. App. 1999).
Subject Fair Housing Act

A church-affiliated university may cut the hours and pay of its campus chaplain without facing penalty under the Fair Employment and Housing Act

Schmoll sued her former employer, Chapman University ("the University"), alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of sex and retaliated against in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"). The trial court granted the University's motion for summary judgement. The Court of Appeal of California affirmed.

Schmoll was employed by the University as its chaplain and director of campus ministry. Her job responsibilities at the church-affiliated University included leading worship, directing student ministers, and recruiting students. At one point, Schmoll informed the University administrators that some students had complained that they were being sexually harassed by two faculty members. Some time afterwards, Schmoll's hours were reduced by half, yielding a similar reduction in compensation and benefits.

1. The University primarily argued that the religion clauses of the First Amendment barred courts from entertaining employment disputes between it and its ministerial employee. Specifically, it noted that "courts have developed a general rule barring judicial review of employment disputes between religious organizations and their clergy employees" (at 429).

2. First, the Establishment Clause is implicated, because, should the court apply FEHA to the University, it would amount to "excessive governmental entanglement with religion" (at 430). Specifically, the court would be forced to inquire into the University's justification for cutting back Schmoll's hours, which would entail judging "the legitimacy of the ...institution's own perception of its ministerial needs." Id.

3. Secondly, the Free Exercise Clause is implicated, because the University's interest in choosing its leaders outweighs any state interest in protecting the interests of employees. In particular, "[t]he right to choose ministers without government restriction underlies the well-being of religious community, for perpetuation of a church's existence may depend upon those whom it selects to preach its values, teach its message, and interpret its doctrines both to its own membership and to the world at large" (at 432). As such, any intervention by the court would have been a violation of the First Amendment.

Case Summary by: Greg Petouvis