Los Angeles Employment Team Obtains Summary Judgment in Age Discrimination Case

May 2021

Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani Los Angeles Partners Debra Ellwood Meppen, Anthony J. Bellone, and Senior Counsel Edrik Mehrabi obtained summary judgment on behalf of the firm's client, a private catholic school in Los Angeles. This was a highly contentious case brought by a former employee of over forty years against her former employer.

The plaintiff primarily worked as an office administrator/secretary for the firm's client, a private catholic school, since 1978. During the 2016/2017 academic school year, the school’s former principal hired a full time secretary as the plaintiff transitioned to becoming the school’s only art teacher. During the plaintiff’s final academic year, she worked as the art teacher two days a week and only one day a week in the office to assist the full time secretary.  The school hired a new principal for the 2018/2019 academic school year. The new principal met with the plaintiff once during which time the two only discussed the plaintiff’s role and availability as the school’s art teacher. The new principal decided not to bring the plaintiff back as the art teacher. A lawsuit ensued.

At deposition, the plaintiff was asked a series of questions about her job duties and responsibilities and provided significant testimony regarding how she performed vital religious duties as the art teacher, educating the students on the Catholic faith and guided students to live their lives in accordance with that faith and in accordance with the religious tenets of the school. She made sure her students behavior was “Christ-like.” She also testified that she practiced the Catholic faith every day in class, promoted the meaning of the liturgy and the sacraments that were taught in the Religion, talked about how Jesus is the way to go, and prepared her students actively participate in the community and in the mission of the church.

The plaintiff filed a FAC against the school and the Archdiocese alleging two causes of action: (1) age discrimination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), and (2) failure to provide employee records in violation of Labor Code sections 226 and 1198.5.  

On August 6, 2020, the plaintiff filed a request for dismissal as to the Archdiocese without prejudice as to both causes of action based primarily on the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ("DFEH") exclusion applicable to the Archdiocese. The plaintiff also dismissed the second cause of action against the school. The only remaining cause of action was age discrimination in violation of FEHA against the school.

The plaintiff’s initial settlement demand was $360,000; however, shortly thereafter increased the settlement demand to $2.7 million. In response, the school made a 998 Offer of $100,000.01, which was summarily rejected. The plaintiff’s most recent demand was a policy limits demand.

Based on the plaintiff’s deposition testimony and the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru (2020) 140 S. Ct. 2049, the Gordon & Rees team filed a motion of summary judgment on behalf of the school as to the plaintiff’s remaining age discrimination claim on grounds that the ministerial exception barred her claims. The plaintiff’s own testimony regarding her zealous religious teachings allowed for the argument that the ministerial exception applied, and ultimately allowed for the barring of her claim.  At the hearing, the Court adopted its tentative ruling and granted the school's motion.