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Which governs? State anti-discrimination laws or church rules?

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination is arguably one of the strongest in the nation in regards to the protections it affords gay and lesbian employees in the workplace. The LAD prohibits employers from discriminating against both applicants and employees on the basis of marital status, domestic partnerships, civil unions, affectional or sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, among other things.

Do all of those protections go out the window if the employer happens to be a church that has theological rules against same-sex relationships? New Jersey's court is likely going to have to weigh in soon about the matter, and it's far from a sure victory for the church involved.

The case that's set to test New Jersey's LAD and determine the outcome of similar cases in the future involves a lesbian educator who was fired from her Catholic high school position after the school became aware that she was married to another woman.

This case is particularly interesting because the fired teacher did nothing to draw attention to her marital status and considered it an entirely private matter that wasn't something to be discussed with either her students or her employer. She was only "outed" because one of her wife's relatives emailed photos of the couple to some of the school's administrators.

Attorneys for her employer maintain that the Catholic school is exempt from state non-discrimination laws because it is a religious institution. However, attorneys for the teacher point out that her position was not religious in nature and that she was singled out for discrimination for failing to abide by church teachings while other teachers who have also failed to do so haven't faced any repercussion.

For example, her attorneys have pointed out that several teachers at the school are divorced, some live with members of the opposite sex and at least one teacher has had a child out of wedlock—all of which are against church rules. That sort of blatant discrimination may lend considerable strength to the educator's argument that she was unfairly discriminated against. It may be difficult for the church to assert that it can pick and choose which part of it doctrine to enforce against employees.

If you've faced discrimination in the workplace due to your sexual orientation or any other issue addressed by the LAD you should consider talking with an attorney about the situation.

Source: The State of New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety Office of the Attorney General, "Employment Discrimination," accessed Dec. 18, 2016

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