Synagogue youth workers wage-hour suit

“A youth group adviser from California has brought a class-action suit against her employer, the Orthodox Union. …Her complaint states that in addition to her ‘nine-to-five’ duties of teaching classes, meeting with students and co-workers, cooking for holiday meals and running programs, she also had students at her house on Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays. She had to make herself constantly available to students and their parents by phone and e-mail, and she worked around the clock while chaperoning Shabbatons and trips.” Overtime was not paid for these duties as legally required, her lawyer says. [JTA via Helfand/Prawfs; related on scope of “ministerial exception” in employment law]


  • What exactly does the ministerial exception (an exception to anti-discrimination laws) have to do with the Fair Labor Standards Act and other hour and wage statutes? There’s no plausible argument that being a religious institution allows you to pay less than minimum wage or fail to pay overtime as required.

    This seems like a pretty run-of-the-mill wage and hour dispute.

  • Sorry, I stand corrected. That’s apparently what people are fighting about. Seems ridiculous to me. FLSA applies to state and local governments, but not churches? In what way does that make sense?

  • @ James–
    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

  • Hugo, that does not give religious organizations a free do-anything-we-want card.

  • They certainly should pay people fairly, but to be compliant with Jewish Law, you can’t ask a Jewish person to work on shabbat or Yom Tov, or pay him to work on those days.

    But plenty of Jewish organizations have found creative ways around this, usually paying people for Sunday and giving them Mondays off.

  • Jesse–

    It depends how distinctively religious a worker’s job is.

    Congregations have a free hand to discriminate in hiring a rabbi, and are free to fire him if they can’t reach an agreement on hours and conditions of work.

    On the other hand, a garden-variety janitor in a church-owned hospital would be covered by the same labor and discrimination laws as janitors in other hospitals.

    A youth worker sounds closer in religious significance to a rabbi than to a hospital janitor. The congregation may decide that being available for calls at odd hours is a distinctive responsibility of youth workers, a responsibility which negotiated pay should reflect.