Last December, President Michael Hammond and Board of Trustees chair Carrie Tibbles notified Gordon faculty and staff that the school has settled its lawsuit with former social work professor Margaret DeWeese-Boyd. The announcement marks the end of over five years of litigation.
The lawsuit has generated controversy from within the Gordon community and attracted significant state media coverage. Within the legal community, it has raised important questions about the Supreme Court’s ministerial exception.
“We are pleased to finally reach a resolution of this dispute,” Hammond and Tibbles’ email said. “This has been a protracted legal journey through the judicial system which we did not seek out but were compelled to pursue, and one which we know has been at times uncomfortable for Gordon as a strongly relational community.”
Litigation began in 2017, when DeWeese-Boyd sued the school after alleging she was denied full professorship over critiquing the college’s policies on homosexuality. She also claimed to have been discriminated against because of her gender, arguing that male professors voiced similar views with no repercussions.
Gordon College contested DeWeese-Boyd’s claims and pursued a summary judgment on the First Amendment ministerial exception, a court doctrine designed to protect religious institutions from being sued by employees who perform ministerial functions. Lawyers for Gordon College argued that DeWeese-Boyd’s religious responsibilities as a professor exempted the school from her discrimination claims.
DeWeese-Boyd contested the college’s arguments, claiming that her “role and responsibilities at Gordon College [did] not differ from those of a professor in a similar field at a non-Christian college.”
March 5th, 2021, the Massachusetts Supreme Court rejected Gordon College’s petition to apply for the ministerial exception. According to the Court, DeWeese-Boyd “did not teach religion or religious texts, lead her students in prayer, take students to chapel services or other religious services, deliver sermons at chapel services, or select liturgy, all of which have been important, albeit not dispositive, factors in the Supreme Court’s functional analysis.”
Gordon appealed to have the college’s case heard before the US Supreme Court, but was denied, according to Justice Alito, “because the preliminary posture of the litigation would complicate our review.”
Alito however, critiqued the MA Supreme Court ruling, expressing doubt about “the state court’s understanding of religious education and, accordingly, its application of the ministerial exception.” He suggested the Supreme Court might agree to hear the case if Gordon College were to lose again in the lower courts.
Now that the case is settled, a Supreme Court decision as to the ministerial exception’s exact application will have to come from elsewhere.
The terms of the settlement between Gordon and DeWeese-Boyd have yet to be disclosed.
Categories: Student Life