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Title VII and the Religious Organization Exemption

Last week, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the Salvation Army, the defendant in an employment discrimination action under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Court held that Title VII’s religious organization exemption is not jurisdictional and is subject to procedural forfeiture. Absent prejudice resulting from the Salvation Army’s failure to timely raise the defense, however, the religious organization exemption foreclosed plaintiff’s Title VII claims because the Salvation Army’s purpose and character were primarily religious. The panel held that the exemption does not apply only to hiring and firing decisions, but rather extends to both retaliation and hostile work environment claims.

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