The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, July 21 that a claim brought by a former Catholic school employee (Wendy Ostlund) for age discrimination was not valid due to the fact that she had worked at a religious institution.
The court overturned the rulings of two lower courts by a razor sharp verdict of 4 to 3. The lower courts sided with Ostlund, who claimed that she had been terminated illegally during a 2002 downsizing.
The claimant’s attorney expressed dismay at the ruling, claiming that the Supreme Court ignored a wealth of precedence that seemed to support the view that religious institutions must abide by fair employment practices for positions that are not ministerial and that are largely secular in nature. A Justice speaking for the Supreme Court’s majority disagreed, pointing to Wisconsin’s Free Exercise and Freedom of Conscious clauses; he suggested that these laws allow certain religious organizations exemption from some employment discrimination claims.