Gregg Tucker devoted fourteen years of his life to Faith Christian Academy in Colorado. After Gregg and his wife adopted a daughter, Daniela, who is Black, some students began to call Gregg and his family racial slurs, including the n-word. Gregg also witnessed unchecked racism that some students directed at their Black, Hispanic, and Asian classmates. The abuse included the use of racial slurs, white students dressing in Ku Klux Klan hoods, mock executions of students of color, statements supporting neo-Nazism, and white supremacist and racist commentary on social media.
Gregg felt the school was ignoring the problem. So (with the administration’s support) he organized a symposium for students in January 2018 to address racism. While the event was overwhelmingly well-received, a handful of parents whose children were the worst offenders of racist behavior objected and demanded that Gregg be fired. The school caved in—they stripped Gregg of some of his duties and eventually fired him.
Gregg filed a federal lawsuit in June 2019 because the school violated his civil rights by retaliating against him when he opposed the school’s racially hostile environment. The school responded by trying to exploit a legal doctrine called the “ministerial exception” to avoid responsibility for allowing Gregg to suffer racially motivated harassment at work and unjustly firing him. The ministerial exception allows religious employers to avoid liability when, among other things, they fire “ministers”—vital preachers and teachers of the faith. But Gregg Tucker was not a minister—he was not responsible for teaching theology, had no important religious functions as a part of his job, and was explicitly told by the school that he was not a minister when he inquired about a tax deduction available only to ministers. The ministerial exception is meant to ensure that houses of worship can freely choose their clergy; it is not a license for any religious employer to discriminate against its entire workforce.
The trial court rejected the school’s motion for summary judgment based on the ministerial exception, and allowed the case to proceed. After the school appealed, Americans United joined Gregg’s legal team in Fall 2020 to represent him before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. We filed a brief on Gregg’s behalf in January 2021, noting that there were procedural barriers to considering the school’s appeal and that, even if the Tenth Circuit somehow could consider the appeal, it should affirm the trial court. Litigation Counsel Bradley Girard presented oral argument on Gregg’s behalf in May 2021. And in June 2022, the Tenth Circuit agreed with us, ruling that it lacked the power to consider the appeal and allowing Gregg to continue with his case in the trial court.
The school then asked the full Tenth Circuit to rehear the case. We filed an opposition to the school’s petition for rehearing in July 2022.