Church Finds No Sanctuary From EEOC

June 3, 2002 ( Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued an Atlanta church for firing three women after they complained about a church official making repeated sexual advances.

Mount Carmel church has 10,000-members and is part of a larger entity that includes a television ministry, distribution of tapes and books, and 32 ministries — two of which are corporations.

The case is unusual because it involves workers who were part of a church’s administrative staff and not the ministerial staff. If their jobs involved any portion of ministerial or religious work, the EEOC would have had no legal ground to pursue the case.

Churches have what’s called “ministerial exception.” This rule prevents the state from intervening in a church’s decisions regarding its ministers or others in the church who are involved in religious, educational or any other faith-based function.

Also, in the past, churches have bypassed governmental scrutiny in their workplace practices because many of them were small operations. By law, the EEOC cannot pursue cases in which an organization or company has fewer than 15 workers.

The EEOC decided to take Mount Carmel to court after the agency’s conciliatory efforts-a legal process in which the EEOC tries to resolve the matter through voluntary settlement-failed.