Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, No. 19-2142 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Demkovich was hired in 2012 as the music director at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church. Demkovich is gay, overweight, and suffers from diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Demkovich claims Reverend Dada subjected him to a hostile work environment based on his sexual orientation and his disabilities. After Demkovich married his partner, Reverend Dada demanded Demkovich’s resignation because his marriage violated Church teachings. Demkovich refused. Reverend Dada fired him. Demkovich filed hostile environment claims under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Seventh Circuit declined to extend the constitutional "ministerial" exemption to categorically bar all hostile environment discrimination claims by ministerial employees where there is no challenge to tangible employment actions like hiring and firing. The court reasoned that the First Amendment does not bar those same ministerial employees from bringing contract and tort claims against their employers and supervisors, nor does it bar enforcement of criminal laws arising from the mistreatment of those same employees. Religious employers’ control over tangible employment actions—hiring, firing, promoting, deciding compensation, job assignments, and the like—provides ample protection for the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment does not require complete immunity from the sometimes horrific abuse that a bright-line rule would protect.