December 2022 Church & State Magazine

Court Order Allows Colo. Teacher To Proceed With Race Discrimination Claim

  Court Order Allows Colo. Teacher To Proceed With Race Discrimination Claim

Americans United hailed an order from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declining to once again review an employment case called Tucker v. Faith Bible Chapel International.

The order, issued Nov. 15, allows former teacher and director of student life Gregg Tucker to proceed with his lawsuit against the private Christian school in Colorado that fired him after he tried to address pervasive racism there.

Tucker was an exemplary teacher at Faith Christian Academy in Arvada, Colo. When he tried to combat the extensive racism his family and many Black, Hispanic and Asian students faced there, he was fired. Tucker fought back in court, where Faith Christian Academy argued that he was a “minister” and therefore that firing him was a matter of faith that the federal courts could not decide.

The appeals court in June allowed Tucker’s case alleging race discrimination under Title VII to advance by refusing the school’s demand to declare Tucker a “minister” and dismiss the case. The more recent order refused the school’s request for the entire court to review the case, a procedure known as an en banc review. This means Tucker will get to litigate the case and attempt to vindicate his rights.

“This is another win for the rule of law and a critical step in our fight to prevent the weaponization of religious freedom,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United. “Gregg Tucker was fired because he tried to combat pervasive racism at the school. The courts should not allow religious freedom to be distorted as a license to discriminate and deny basic civil rights.

“This case brings to light a dangerous trend: The school’s attorneys and religious employers are urging courts to adopt an ever-broader interpretation of the ministerial exception, which was meant to ensure that houses of worship could freely choose their clergy,” Laser added. “The ministerial exception was never intended to put religious employers above the law or permit them to discriminate against all workers and sidestep civil rights laws.”

Laser concluded, “These employers want the ministerial exception applied not just to clergy and some private-school educators with significant religious duties, but to all employees at religious organizations. This doctrine should not apply to Gregg Tucker, who was not a minister. We are gratified that the Tenth Circuit’s order allows Gregg to seek justice in court.”

The school had made the unprecedented move of appealing a district court order allowing the case to proceed, even though such appeals are not permitted until after litigation has resolved certain questions, including whether or not Tucker is a “minister.” The school wrongly argued that the court should just accept the school’s disputed contention that Tucker was a minister, before that question was answered, and dismiss the case. The school wanted to circumvent the legal process and deny Tucker his right to challenge the retaliation and discrimination he suffered. But the court rightly rejected those arguments.

Tucker’s legal team includes Am­er­icans United Litigation Counsel Bradley Girard, who argued the case before the 10th Circuit in May 2021; AU Vice President and Legal Director Richard B. Katskee; former AU Madison Legal Fellow Adrianne Spoto; and from the Denver law firm Levin Sitcoff PC, attorneys Bradley A. Levin, Jeremy A. Sitcoff and Peter G. Friesen.


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