Crisitello v. St. Theresa SchoolAnnotate this Case
The Church of St. Theresa (St. Theresa’s) owned and operated the St. Theresa School. St. Theresa’s terminated art teacher and toddler room caregiver Victoria Crisitello for violating the terms of her employment agreement. That agreement required employees to abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church and forbade employees from engaging in premarital sex; Crisitello, who was unmarried, had become pregnant. In response to her firing, Crisitello filed a complaint against St. Theresa’s alleging employment discrimination in violation of the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), based on pregnancy and marital status. St. Theresa’s countered that its decision to terminate Crisitello was protected by both the First Amendment and the LAD. The New Jersey Supreme Court held: (1) the “religious tenets” exception of N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(a) was an affirmative defense available to a religious entity when confronted with a claim of employment discrimination; and (2) the uncontroverted fact was that St. Theresa’s followed the religious tenets of the Catholic Church in terminating Crisitello. The Court thus concluded St. Theresa’s was entitled to summary judgment and that the trial court correctly dismissed the complaint with prejudice.