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Kant v. Lexington Theological Seminary

Supreme Court of Kentucky

April 17, 2014

LAURENCE H. KANT, APPELLANT
v.
LEXINGTON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, APPELLEE

ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS. CASE NO. 2011-CA-000004-MR. FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT NO. 09-CI-04070.

FOR APPELLANT: Christopher D. Miller, Arnold & Miller, PLC.

FOR APPELLEE: Elizabeth S. Muyskens, Richard Garrett Griffith, Stoll, Keenon & Ogden, PLLC.

FOR AMICUS CURIAE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS: Aaron Nisenson, American Association of University Professors, C. David Emerson, Emerson Law Office, Patrick J. Slevin, Stephen A. Vaden, Patton Boggs, LLP.

FOR AMICUS CURIAE THE ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Barry Levenstam, Debbie L. Berman, Micah J. Cogen, Jenner & Block, LLP; Eric L. Ison, Bingham, Greenebaum, Doll, LLP.

FOR AMICUS CURIAE ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM AND ASSOCIATION OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS INTERNATIONAL: Erik W. Stanley, Alliance Defending Freedom, Biyan Howard Beauman, Joshua Michael Salsburey, Sturgill, Turner, Barker & Moloney, PLLC.

FOR AMICUS CURIAE UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, LAS VEGAS, BOYD SCHOOL OF LAW: Dr. Leslie C. Griffin, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Boyd School of Law.

Minton, C.J.; Abramson, Cunningham, Noble, Scott, and Venters, JJ., sitting.

OPINION

Page 588

MINTON, CHIEF JUSTICE

In Kirby v. Lexington Theological Seminary, [1] a case rendered today in tandem with this case, we explicitly adopted the ministerial exception for employment disputes between religious institutional employers and their ministerial employees. This case presents the question whether the ministerial exception categorically applies to all professors employed by seminaries.

Laurence Kant was a tenured Professor of Religious Studies at Lexington Theological Seminary, employed to teach courses on several religious and historical subjects. The Seminary terminated his employment, and Kant challenged the legitimacy of his termination by filing this action for breach of contract and breach of implied covenants

Page 589

of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court granted summary judgment dismissing Kant's claims; and a divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal, holding that Kant was a ministerial employee of the Seminary.

On discretionary review, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals because we hold that Kant was not a ministerial employee of the Seminary. We reject a categorical application of the ministerial exception that would treat all seminary professors as ministers under the law. Each case must be reviewed on the totality of its facts as we outlined in Kirby . Kant, as opposed to Kirby, did not participate in significant religious functions, proselytize, or espouse the tenets of the faith on behalf of his religious institutional employer. The trial court, consequently, erred by granting summary judgment because questions of material fact exist regarding the contractual claims asserted by Kant, so we remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND.

A. The Seminary.

We reproduce here the same factual background information regarding the Seminary as found in Kirby . The facts in this case and Kirby differ only in the roles played by Kirby and Kant.

Founded in 1865, originally as the College of the Bible on the campus of Transylvania University,[2] Lexington Theological Seminary is " an accredited graduate theological institution of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)." The stated mission of the Seminary is " to prepare faithful leaders for the church of Jesus Christ and, thus, to strengthen the church's participation in God's mission for the world." In executing its mission, the aim of the Seminary is " to prepare women and men of varied backgrounds and traditions for ordained and other forms of ministry." Consistent with this mission and the tenets of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Seminary is intentionally ecumenical, with nearly half of its enrollment coming from other Christian denominations.

Perhaps as a good business practice or perhaps because accreditation standards require it,[3] the Seminary opted to put the policies, procedures, expectations, and other conditions of employment in writing for its faculty, staff, and other employees. Despite the Seminary's argument to the contrary, with regard to faculty, the Faculty Handbook explicitly supersedes the Employee Handbook. The ...


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