Prince of Peace Lutheran Church v. Linklater, 2011 Md. LEXIS 574 (Md. Sept. 21, 2011).
Mary Linklater, a former employee of a church, sued the employer church, along with a synod, a pastor, and a bishop. Linklater filed a number of claims against the defendants, including sexual harassment, discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Linklater filed her sexual harassment and discrimination claims pursuant to the Montgomery County Code. The trial court dismissed the discrimination and sexual harassment claims pursuant to the ministerial exception of the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Special Appeals’ holding that the ministerial exception does not operate to bar every claim of sexual harassment asserted against church officials by a former ministerial employee. The Court of Appeals also adopted the reasoning of COSA’s opinion in finding that the continuing violation doctrine applied to the sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and gender discrimination claims. In holding that the continuing violation doctrine applied to the plaintiff’s claims, the Court relied upon a case from the Supreme Court of California, Richards v. CH2M Hill, Inc., 26 Cal. 4 th 798, 111 Cal. Rptr. 2d 87, 29 R. 3d 175 (Cal. 2001), which held that an employer’s persistent failure to reasonably accommodate a disability, or to eliminate a hostile work environment targeting a disabled employee, is a continuing violation if the employer’s unlawful actions are (1) sufficiently similar in kind – recognizing that similar kinds of unlawful employer conduct, such as acts of harassment or failures to reasonably accommodate disability, may take a number of different forms; (2) have occurred with reasonable frequency; (3) and have not acquired a degree of permanence. However, the Court also held that the some of the plaintiff’s state tort claims, her retaliation claim, and her contract claims “would necessarily involve judicial inquiry into church governance, and such an inquiry is prohibited by the First Amendment.”