A recent decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal is concerned with the employment status of Methodist ministers.
The case is UKEAT/0219/10/DM between Ms H. A. Moore and The President of the Methodist Conference. The judgment, dated 15 March 2011 is available here, and can also be downloaded from here. (49 pages as a .doc file).
Here’s a news report from the Western Morning News Female church minister wins landmark employment rights case.
A sacked [but see comment below] female minister in Cornwall has won a landmark ruling to bring a case against the Methodist Church for unfair dismissal.
The decision by the Employment Appeal Tribunal reverses an earlier decision by the Court of Appeal and paves the way for all clergy to challenge their employers in the courts.
The tribunal concluded that Haley Moore, who was dismissed as a minister in Redruth, was an employee under the Employment Rights Act and can take action against her former employer, the President of the Methodist Conference.
The Unite union, which has been fighting for equal rights at work for religious workers for 16 years, said the decision was a “significant step forward”.
but note also:
A Methodist Church spokesman said it would appeal the ruling.
Kenneth Howcroft, assistant secretary of conference, said: “The Methodist Church is seeking an appeal against the judgement that Haley Moore’s case is a matter for an employment tribunal.
“As it stands, Methodist ministers are office holders, not employees, of the Church and have legal rights of redress under long established, procedural channels.”
And a press release from the solicitors: New Landmark Employment Ruling for Clergy.
The decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal is a significant step towards achieving this as it establishes that a Methodist minister is an employee under employment legislation, which is contrary to the Court of Appeal’s decision about Methodist ministers in 1984. The Methodist Church has 21 days from the date of the EAT’s order of 15 March 2011 to make an application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal.”
And a press release from the Trade Union: Church of England urged ‘to smell the coffee’ over employment rights, following landmark ruling in Cornwall.
Religion Law Blog carries some comment on this by Neil Addison:
In Moore v The President Of The Methodist Conference BAILII: UKEAT 0219_10_1503 the Employment Appeals Tribunal decided that a Methodist Minister was an Employee for the purposes of Employment Law, in this case a claim for unfair dismissal. The EAT applied an earlier House of Lords case Percy v. Church of Scotland  UKHL 73 in which the House of Lords decided that a Church of Scotland Minister was an employee.
Prior to Percy the general assumption in law was that religious ministers, of all denominations, were office holders rather than employees and so were not protected under unfair dismissal and/or discrimination law. In Percy however the House of Lords decided that, on the specific facts, the Minister in the case was an employee and the same decision was made in Moore as regards a Methodist minister.
How far this principle will extend is difficult to determine. It is possible that Denominations which have a very sacramental view of the status and role of the Clergy, such aside the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, will continue to be able to claim that their clergy are “office holders” rather than employees. However for Free Church Ministers, Rabbi’s and Immans the position may be different and they may be held to be employees of their respective congregations should they decide to sue for unfair dismissal or discrimination.
The full text of the Methodist Conference statement quoted in part above:
The Revd Kenneth Howcroft, Assistant Secretary of the Methodist Conference, said: “The Methodist Church is seeking leave to appeal against the judgement that Haley Moore’s case is a matter for an employment tribunal. It is treating the matter with great seriousness as something that would affect all our ministers. The Court of Appeal held as long ago as 1984 that Methodist ministers are not employees. A minister’s role is one which is traditionally based on the ethos and laws of the Church rather than on a secular ethos. Our ministers have legal rights of redress under Church procedures. The Methodist Church cares for all who serve it, whether lay or ordained, paid or volunteer, and we want to ensure that we treat everyone fairly and properly.”